Governor Expresses Support for Marijuana Decriminalization, Vetoes Bill

decriminalization, marijuana, Illinois drug crimes lawyerThe latest chapter in the ongoing story to reduce the population of overcrowded Illinois prisons unfolded in a rather anticlimactic fashion last week, as a bipartisan measure to decriminalize minor possession of marijuana was vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner. Despite his ongoing efforts to help the prison system become effective, Rauner believed that the bill, in its current form, is a little too lenient and that the amount of marijuana to be considered decriminalized needs to be lowered. The governor did indicate, however, that he supports the legislation’s intended goals, but that such changes “must be made carefully and incrementally.”

Goals of the Bipartisan Legistlation

As passed by the House and Senate earlier this year, the proposed law would make possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana a civil offense, similar to a traffic ticket. Rather than facing criminal prosecution, an offender would be required to pay a fine ranging from $55 to $125. The bill also sought to relax the state’s current zero-tolerance law regarding marijuana and driving under the influence. Under current statutes, a driver can be charged with DUI for showing any trace of cannabis in his or her system regardless of impairment or how long ago it was ingested. Lawmakers looked to establish an impairment standard, similar to a blood alcohol content limit, of 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

Amendments Sought By the Governor and Reaction

In vetoing the bill, the governor sent the measure back to the legislature with several recommended changes. Primarily, Rauner wants the decriminalized possession limit to be reduced to 10 grams and the statutory fines increased to $100 to $200 per offense. He also indicated that he believed the DUI provision goes too far, and that the impairment standard should be set at 5 nanograms per milliliter.

Representative Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, was the bill’s sponsor in the House and she expressed her frustration with the partial veto. She believed that many of the vetoed details had been worked out in the negotiation process, as many changes were incorporated at the request of Republican lawmakers working on behalf of the governor. She seemed most bothered the possession reduction, especially in light of the governor’s goal to reduce prison population. “Does putting someone in jail for 10 grams instead of 15 grams make us safer?” Cassidy asked. “I would argue it doesn’t.”

The amended measure now heads back to the legislature. There, lawmakers have the option to pass it with the proposed changes or start from scratch with a new bill.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with possession of marijuana or any other drug crimes, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Rolling Meadows. At Cosley Law Office, we are fully up to date on all applicable drug laws and understand how to help you in your situation. Call 847-253-3100 to schedule your free consultation today.

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