News Local/State

Illinois House Moves Toward Decriminalizing Marijuana Possession


Low level marijuana users may soon catch a break in Illinois. Rather than going to jail, it'd be more like getting a speeding ticket.

The repercussions for having pot vary; Rep. Kelly Cassidy says there's a patchwork of more than 100 different local ordinances all over the state.

"And the outcome from this patchwork system puts in place an unjust and confusing system wherein where you live and what you look like dictates whether or not you'll be arrested for extremely low-level marijuana possession," she says.

Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, is sponsor of a measure that would put a uniform standard in place.

Possession of 15 grams of cannabis or less would trigger a fine of between $55 and $125.

Cassidy says it'll ensure law enforcement officers can focus on criminals who are truly dangerous.

And, she says, estimates show Illinois could save $30 million by not putting low-level pot smokers behind bars. Rep. Ken Dunkin, another Chicago Democrat, says taxpayers' money shouldn't be spent to house people for petty crimes.

"And to make sure that we are not wasting our precious public resources on issues that we know we can do better with.

Especially having a couple of joints or two, putting someone in jail, this here does such great wonders for it," he said.

But at least once critic expressed concerns that it's too lenient on drivers who may be high.

The House approved the measure on the slim margin of 62 to 53. It now goes to the Senate.

A state commission formed by the governor has been tasked with finding ways to reduce Illinois' prison population.