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Ill. Bill to Extend Marijuana Decriminalization May Solve Bigger Problem for Governor

by Carl Wicklander, published

ILLINOIS -- A bill that would extend a pilot program of marijuana decriminalization in Illinois cleared one more hurdle last week, but still faces at least one more.

The Illinois Senate passed a bill that would bring the state one step closer to becoming the 18th state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The bill would reduce possession of 15 ounces or less of marijuana from an arresting offense to a fine of $125 with no court time. The same bill passed the Illinois House in April.

The state's current program includes regulations of fingerprinting, a background check, identification card, and a $150 fee.

Sponsoring Sen. Martin Noland, a Chicagoland Democrat, said:

"It's wrong, and I would encourage the children of this state and my own children to abstain from the use of the substance, but people do use this, and it should not be something that ruins social lives and professional lives as well . . . People have been arrested at very young ages for this and have suffered the consequences."

Another supporter, Republican Sen. Jason Barickman, spoke to the fiscal advantages:

"Every person you talk to in this state wants us to find ways to save money . . . This legislation gives us a way to do that. It will save money at the state level, and give us the opportunity to save money at the local level."

The bill also has its detractors. Republican Sen. Dale Righter pointed out, "We know almost nothing about how this act is going to play out. . . . Why the rush to extend the sunset 2 1/2 years before that is set to occur?"

Governor Bruce Rauner has been generally skeptical about efforts to reform marijuana laws. A spokeswoman for the governor has only said there is "a lot of time left to evaluate a pilot program, and we should not extend the program until it has been fully evaluated."

Despite questions about the likelihood of the governor signing the bill, advocates may hope he sees this as an opportunity to further another goal. Earlier this year, Rauner issued an executive order that intends to reduce the state's prison population by 25% within 10 years. According to the ACLU, Illinois has the fifth-highest arrest rate in the country for marijuana possession.

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