Pubdate: Sun, 27 Mar 2016
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Author: Ivan Moreno, Associated Press


But Opposition Fierce From Foes Including Law Enforcement Officials

SPRINGFIELD - Another attempt to decriminalize the possession of 
small amounts of marijuana statewide is again in front of Illinois 
lawmakers, but as before, the proposal faces strong opposition from 
law enforcement and anti-pot advocates.

The omnibus bill in the Senate also sets a standard for what's 
considered too high to drive and automatically purges municipal 
citation records for possession annually, unless local governments 
decide against it. Opponents of the legislation dislike both of those 
provisions, too, saying there should be zero tolerance and that 
expunging records will make it difficult to determine when someone 
needs drug treatment.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed last year's attempt to 
decriminalize pot, but gave lawmakers guidance on how to proceed if 
they tried again. Instead of making the possession of 15 grams or 
less of marijuana a civil offense, punishable with a fine of between 
$55 and $125, Rauner wanted - and legislators have proposed - the 
threshold to be lower (10 grams or less) and the fines higher 
(between $100 and $200).

"We are encouraged to see the General Assembly on a path to accept 
the governor's changes, and will continue monitoring the legislation 
as it moves forward," Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said.

The bill, which could get a final vote in the Senate as soon as next 
month before it moves to the House, comes as many states are 
rethinking how they should punish pot possession. Illinois is among 
15 states that proposed legislation this year to decriminalize 
marijuana possession, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have legalized the drug for 
recreational use by adults. Several states have medical marijuana, 
including Illinois' four-year pilot program for which sales began in 
November. And about 100 Illinois communities, including Chicago, 
already give police discretion to issue citations instead of making 
arrests for small amounts of the drug.

Lawmakers behind the decriminalization effort have been optimistic 
about its chances because they view the bill as aligning with 
Rauner's goal to reduce the state's prison population over the next 
decade and as a way to provide a more consistent approach to how law 
enforcement treats possession of small quantities.

"It's so that everybody is treated the same," said Sen. Heather 
Steans, a Chicago Democrat who is one of the bill sponsors. She added 
that she worries about racial disparities with who gets arrested 
instead of cited.

A 2014 study from Roosevelt University found black people in Illinois 
were seven times more likely than whites to be arrested on possession 
charges instead of being ticketed.

The broader movement in the state and elsewhere to ease or get rid of 
laws on marijuana use, whether recreationally or medically, is 
worrisome to groups like the Illinois Family Institute.

"The message that the state of Illinois has is: This isn't such a big 
deal. That's a terrible message," said Ralph Rivera, lobbyist for the group.

Steans' bill also seeks to give guidance to law enforcement for 
what's considered too high to drive. Currently, any trace of 
marijuana is enough to be considered impaired, but pot advocates have 
long criticized zero-tolerance states' approach because marijuana can 
stay in a person's system for several weeks.

With the bill, a driver's blood would have to contain 5 nanograms of 
THC, marijuana's intoxicating chemical, within two hours of consumption.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom