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Steans measure would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana

steans decrimLast year, Illinois nearly became the 15th state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This year, Sen. Heather Steans hopes a new piece of legislation, the product of a compromise with the governor but still substantially similar to the measure he vetoed last fall, will soon become law.

More than 50,000 arrests are made in Illinois each year for marijuana-related offenses – and 98 percent of them are for possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, with no intent to sell.

Illinois taxpayers pay an estimated $250 million annually to investigate, arrest, prosecute and incarcerate people suspected of violating marijuana laws. That’s $250 million no longer available to fight violent crime or provide social services. Those caught up in the criminal justice system as a result of cannabis possession are disproportionately low-income and people of color, and with a criminal record, they face even longer odds of getting jobs and contributing to the economy.

Steans’ new proposal would make possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis a civil law violation rather than a crime, and the violator could be fined between $100 and $200. Possessing between 30 and 100 grams would be a misdemeanor, with a felony charge triggered only by possession of more than 100 grams.

The decriminalization measure would also require courts to expunge records of civil marijuana violations yearly, allowing offenders to seek employment or a degree without the stigma of a record. And it sets science-based standards for the minimum amount of THC – the active ingredient in marijuana – in the blood stream that would trigger an arrest for driving under the influence.

The Criminal Law Committee has approved Senate Bill 2228, setting it up for a vote of the full Senate.