Illinois lawmakers pass marijuana decriminalization bill

By Mary Wisniewski 7 hours ago

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Illinois Senate on Thursday passed a bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, sending it to the governor for signature.

The bill, which passed 37-19 vote, makes possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana a civil law violation punishable by a $125 fine.

Individuals will not face jail time.

The measure was approved by the Illinois House of Representatives in April. A spokeswoman for Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, did not say whether he would sign it.

"The governor will carefully consider any legislation that crosses his desk," said spokeswoman Catherine Kelly.

Under current Illinois law, possession of up to 2.5 grams of marijuana is punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a fine of up to $1,500.

More than 100 other Illinois towns and cities, including Chicago, have already adopted measures that reduce penalties for simple marijuana possession, said Chris Lindsey, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based policy group.

"It's time to stop destroying people's lives over possession of a substance that is undeniably less harmful than alcohol," said Lindsey.

Lindsey cited an American Civil Liberties Union report that 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.

The proposal comes as a growing number of U.S. states have relaxed marijuana laws. Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states, including Illinois; 15 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts; and four states and Washington, D.C. have approved the drug for recreational use, Lindsey said.

Public opinion has also shifted toward legalizing marijuana in recent years, with nearly half of Americans supporting full legalization, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.