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WIRE: Illinois house approves bill to remove marijuana possession penalties

CHICAGO, Ill. — The Illinois House approved a bill 64-50 on Tuesday that would replace criminal penalties with a civil fine for possession of a personal amount of marijuana. It will now go to Gov. Bruce Rauner for approval.

SB 2228, introduced by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), would make possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100-$200. Adults would no longer face time in jail, and the civil offense would be automatically expunged in order to prevent a permanent criminal record. The proposal largely mirrors legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Kelly Cassidy and reflects amendments Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed when he vetoed a similar bill last year.

“Illinois is long overdue for creating marijuana policies that treat our residents more fairly and free law enforcement up for more serious crime,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who sponsored the bill in the House. “We should not spend our resources arresting and jailing people just for the possession of a small amount of marijuana. This bill is an important step, and I am happy to be a part of this change in policy.”

Under current Illinois law, possession of up to 2.5 grams of marijuana is a class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,500; possession of 2.5-10 grams is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,500; and possession of more than 10 grams and up to 30 grams is a class 4 felony punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $1,500 fine. More than 100 Illinois communities have already removed criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession.

“Marijuana consumers should not have their lives ruined simply for possessing a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol,” said Chris Lindsey, a senior legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “The damage done to individuals when they get criminal records, and the resources spent arresting and prosecuting them, are impossible to justify. It is time we started treating marijuana more sensibly, and this bill does that.”

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have removed the threat of jail time for simple marijuana possession. Beyond Illinois, legislation to do so was introduced in 14 other states this year.

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The Marijuana Policy Project is the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization. For more information, visit www.MarijuanaPolicy.org.

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