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Marijuana Decriminalization in Illinois

Rolling Meadows Criminal Defense Attorney

Many people view marijuana possession as a relatively minor offense. For first time offenders with only small amounts of the drug on them, this is generally true. However, Illinois has recently begun the process of joining over 20 other states that have decriminalized marijuana possession in small amounts, meaning possession of marijuana in small quantities will not lead to jail time or a criminal record. The Illinois State Senate passed SB2228 on April 19, 2016 and a related House bill (HB4357) is pending; a similar bill was introduced and subsequently vetoed by the governor in 2015. This bill introduced changes to the amount of marijuana one can possess, what the tolerance is for driving under the influence of marijuana, and the fines associated with marijuana possession.

Decriminalization Versus Legalization

Decriminalization is not the same as legalization. Decriminalization means that an individual will not be charged with a crime or earn a criminal record if they have less than the amount of marijuana statutorily allowed. They will be responsible for paying a fee, if found guilty, but this amounts to the equivalent of a civil infraction and will not show up on a criminal record search. Legalization, on the other hand, removes all penalties associated with possession of marijuana; only four jurisdictions have legalized and removed all criminal penalties for possession of marijuana and Illinois is not currently among those states. Even in states where marijuana is legalized, individuals may still be found guilty of possession charges if they are in violation of federal law, which to date, expressly forbids possession of any controlled substance in any quantity.

Advocates of the decriminalization of marijuana in Illinois point to the large numbers of those incarcerated for non-violent, drug-related offenses. Moreover, even one possession conviction may affect an individual's ability to gain employment, find housing, or further his or her education, making people who made one mistake unable to contribute to society. Critics are quick to point out that "intoxication" is difficult to quantify with marijuana, making driving under the influence an immediate concern. Moreover, the quantities a person may possess are higher than some states, raising additional concerns.

What This Means for Marijuana in Illinois

First, understand that the change in law will not be retroactive. That is, if you have been previously convicted of a pot-related offense, this new law will not change the outcome. Second, this is not the law yet. In order for marijuana to be decriminalized in Illinois, the House must also pass SB2228 and the governor must sign it into law. Moreover, HB4357 also introduces important components of decriminalization and has yet to be heard by either the Senate or the House. Until then, possessing even comparatively small amounts of marijuana is a criminal offense in Illinois and a conviction will be reflected on your criminal record. The current marijuana law reflects a zero-tolerance policy on the presence of THC (the main stimulant present in marijuana) in the blood when driving. This has been a controversial law due to the fact that THC remains in a user's system for weeks or months after use, so a driver may have THC in the body, but not be "under the influence" of drugs. There is not currently an exact science as to what level of THC makes an individual "under the influence" (compare DUI for alcohol laws resting at 0.08 percent), making pending legislation all the more important in attempting to solidify a limit for recreational marijuana use and driving.

Rolling Meadows Criminal Law Attorney

Until marijuana is decriminalized or legalized in the State of Illinois, if you have been charged with a marijuana possession crime, you are facing criminal penalties and a mark on your criminal record. Illinois drug crime defense attorney Donald J. Cosley can help you understand your legal rights, responsibilities, and options under the law. He will advocate for a dismissal of charges, lesser charges, or lenient sentencing when possible. He may also be able to assist you in removing a prior marijuana possession conviction from your criminal record through a legal process called expungement. Speak with an experienced Rolling Meadows criminal defense attorney today to learn more about the current marijuana laws and how an attorney can help you lessen the damage of your charges. Contact the Law Offices of Donald J. Cosley at 847-253-3100 for a complimentary consultation.

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