Will Illinois lawmakers decriminalize marijuana possession?

Recently, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel testified before the Illinois House-Senate Joint Criminal Reform Committee calling for the statewide decriminalization of marijuana possession and a reduction in criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of controlled substances.

According to Mayor Emanuel, the proposed changes would not only save time and money but also help preserve job opportunities for many individuals by sparing them from having a felony criminal record. “It doesn’t make sense that one arrest for a very small amount of a controlled substance can lead to a lifetime of struggles,” Mayor Emanuel opined before the Committee.

Interestingly, Chicago already passed a city ordinance in 2012 that essentially decriminalized the possession of small amounts marijuana. Indeed, under this ordinance, police officers are permitted to merely cite and fine, rather than arrest, an individual found in possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana – making it similar to a traffic offense.

However, this particular ordinance, and its corresponding punishment, is a far cry from the marijuana possession laws currently enforced statewide in Illinois.

Current Illinois marijuana possession laws

Per Illinois law, the possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana, but no more than 30 grams, is currently punishable as a Class A misdemeanor – although a second offense is considered a Class 4 felony. By comparison, under Chicago’s marijuana ordinance, individuals found in possession of 15 grams of less of the drug are likely to be issued tickets and fined a few hundred dollars.

Additionally, Illinois state law dictates that the possession of more than 30 grams of marijuana – roughly one ounce – is already a Class 4 felony, no previous offense is required. In fact, if a person has been previously convicted of the same offense, any subsequent offense is increased to a Class 3 felony.

Marijuana legislation in Illinois

It is important to mention, however, that earlier this year several Illinois lawmakers proposed various amendments to the state’s marijuana possession laws – well before Mayor Emanuel’s recent testimony. For instance, House Bill 5708 proposes to make the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana a petty offense, punishable by a $100 fine. Also, this legislation would, if passed, reduce the penalty for those found in possession of more than 30 grams from a Class 4 felony to a Class A misdemeanor.

Similarly, House Bill 4299 also seeks a reduction from a Class 4 felony to a Class A misdemeanor for those in possession of more than 30 grams of marijuana. But, while this legislation would also make the possession of less than 30 grams a petty offense, any subsequent offense would be considered a Class A misdemeanor.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether these bills, or Mayor Emanuel’s recent testimony, will garner enough support to effect change in Illinois law. However, until any amendments to marijuana possession laws actually materialize, it is crucial for those facing marijuana-related criminal charges to seek advice from experienced legal counsel as soon as possible. Indeed, given the significant penalties currently in place in Illinois, it is more important than ever to consult with a skilled marijuana possession defense attorney.