This week Illinois becomes the twenty-first state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Under the new statute, possessing up to ten grams of marijuana is no longer a misdemeanor and only punishable by a fine between $100 and $200. Because it has become a civil offense it also means offenders will not have their citation added to their criminal record.
This new law is a drastic change from the old statute. Before, under 720 ILCS 550/4, having up to 2.5 grams or less of marijuana was punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine up to $1,500, while having between 2.5 and 10 grams was punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine up to $1,500. Now, admitting you have marijuana no longer results in a trip to the local jail, and the fine has been drastically reduced as well.
Having over 10 grams, however, is a different story. Possession of between 10 and 30 grams of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2,500. Subsequent offenses or possessing more than 30 grams is a Class 4 felony which can result in up to 3 years in jail. Residents of Illinois should make sure if they are in possession of marijuana that they do not exceed the 10 gram limit.
Neighboring Kentucky has not decriminalized marijuana but has stark differences in the amounts they consider felonious. Possessing up to 8 ounces of marijuana is only a misdemeanor punishable by up to 45 days in jail and a fine up to $250. Those same 8 ounces in Illinois could result in between 2 and 5 years in jail along with a fine upwards of $25,000. In contrast, in Wisconsin and Iowa, also neighboring states of Illinois, having any amount of marijuana can be punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
Illinois is on an ever growing list of states to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Delaware decriminalized possessing up to one ounce of marijuana last December. Although Missouri was the 19th state to decriminalize small amounts, their law does not take effect until January 2017. California, which originally decriminalized marijuana in 1975, votes again this November on whether or not to legalize possession and production of marijuana. With Nevada and Maine also voting on marijuana legalization this voting cycle, more states than ever are considering cannabis law reform.
What is clear is that the legal landscape surrounding marijuana is constantly changing. While the Drug Enforcement Agency considers marijuana a schedule 1 drug, making possession of marijuana illegal under federal law, states are taking the first step in trying to change the myriad of laws surrounding marijuana. With breakthroughs in medical science concerning the applications of cannabis, marijuana reform laws have been gaining traction throughout many states, and soon states that criminalize small amounts of marijuana will be in the minority. Marijuana prohibition has lasted for almost a century, and through proper regulation and taxation may end within our lifetime.