Possession of marijuana now merits only a fine, no jail time, in Illinois

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed legislation that makes marijuana possession in small amounts punishable only with fines and no jail time. The new law is effective immediately.

SB 2228, introduced by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), makes possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100-$200. With its enactment, adults no longer face time in jail, and the civil offense will be automatically expunged in order to prevent a permanent criminal record. The new law largely mirrors legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who also sponsored this year’s bill, and reflects amendments Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed when he vetoed a similar bill last year.
The governor’s signature makes Illinois the 17th state — and the third largest — to treat possession of marijuana in small amounts as a civil offense rather than a criminal one.

The legislation also sets a standard for what’s considered too high to drive.

Previously in Illinois, possession of up to 2.5 grams of marijuana was 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 was a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,500. More than 100 Illinois communities had already removed local criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession.

“We applaud Gov. Rauner and the legislature for replacing Illinois’s needlessly draconian marijuana possession law with a much more sensible policy,” said Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This commonsense legislation will prevent countless citizens from having their lives turned upside down by a marijuana possession arrest. Nobody should face a lifelong criminal record and potential jail time for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol. Serious criminal penalties should be reserved for people who commit serious crimes, not low-level marijuana offenses.”

The Illinois State Police released a statement upon the signing of the bill noting that marijuana is still illegal and driving under the influence of marijuana will still be prosecuted.

“The safety of Illinois citizens, and the motoring public, will always remain the utmost priority of the Illinois State Police. ISP officers will continue to enforce the law, while being mindful of the penalty changes for smaller amounts of cannabis,” said ISP Director Leo P. Schmitz.  “The public is reminded that cannabis possession without a medical marijuana card is still illegal; the penalty and fines have changed.  In addition, drivers under the influence of cannabis will still be arrested and prosecuted.”