Senate sends bill decriminalizing marijuana to Rauner for approval

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate approved a bill 37-19 Thursday to remove criminal penalties for possession of a small amount of marijuana.

The measure, which was approved by the House of Representatives in April, will now be sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) for his signature.

HB 218, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Michael Noland (D-Elgin) and in the House by Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), makes possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana a civil law violation punishable by a $125 fine.

Individuals will no longer face time in jail, and the civil offense will be automatically expunged in order to prevent a permanent criminal record.

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 10-30 grams is a class 4 felony punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $1,500 fine. More than 100 localities in Illinois have adopted measures that reduce penalties for simple marijuana possession.

Illinois marijuana laws disproportionately impact communities of color, according to reports released by the Institute for Metropolitan Affairs at Roosevelt University in May 2014 and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in June 2013.

African Americans in Illinois are 7.6 times more likely to be cited or arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite using marijuana at a similar rate, according to the ACLU.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have removed the threat of jail time for simple marijuana possession.