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Despite High Praises, Illinois Governor Vetoes Bipartisan Marijuana Reform

by Carl Wicklander, published

With the governor's veto of a bipartisan effort to alter existing drug laws, the Illinois marijuana reform movement is left to consider its options.

Calling the "criminal prosecution of cannabis possession" a "drain on public resources," Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, vetoed House Bill 218, amending the Cannabis Control Act.

Although saying, "I support the fundamental purposes of this bill," Rauner still issued his veto, but offered his own amendments for the General Assembly to consider.

The legislation originally called for fines ranging from $55 to $125 for ten grams or less of marijuana. The legislation also aimed to reduce non-medical marijuana possession to a civil offense rather than a misdemeanor. Under current Illinois law, the parameters of a Class B misdemeanor of possession cuts off at ten grams.

While HB 218 would change current law to make possession of up to 15 grams a civil violation, Rauner believes the classification of a Class B misdemeanor shouldn't change:

"Leaving the delineation at 10 grams will still accomplish the bill's fundamental purposes. . . .83% of the arrests in 2014 for possession of up to 30 grams were for possession of less than 10 grams. Therefore, providing a civil law violation for possession of up to 10 grams will still dramatically reduce the number of arrests."

Rauner's veto likely upset many on both sides of the political aisle because upon entering office, the governor made it a top priority to reduce the number of people in Illinois jails by 25% and reduce court costs.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, told the Chicago Tribune that she and other supporters of the bill would regroup. She also questioned the changes the governor wants:

"It really comes down to with every change you make, someone gets arrested who wouldn't otherwise. And if we want to keep people out of our jail system we have to take bold moves, and does putting someone in jail for 10 grams instead of 15 grams make us safer? I would argue it doesn't."

However, Jason Barickman, a Republican supportive of Illinois marijuana reform, was more optimistic, saying:

"This is a significant change in public policy. We want to get it right. . . . The governor is expressing his opinion on that, which helps us move the ball forward."

The governor's veto comes at a time when he is in the middle of a partisan battle with the heavily-Democratic legislature over the state budget. However, the proposal to reform Illinois' marijuana laws had strong bipartisan support.

The General Assembly has fifteen days from the beginning of the next session to accept or reject the changes. If the governor's changes are rejected, the current law will remain in place.

Photo Source: AP

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