(Brent Lewis, Denver Post file)

Illinois legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession headed to gov

The vote comes the same day a bill was approved to extend Illinois' medical marijuana program by two or more years

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana is headed to Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk.

The Illinois Senate voted 37-19 Thursday to make possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana a civil violation punishable by fines between $55 and a $125. Violators would not face jail time.

“There has been much talk this year about criminal justice reform and being smarter on crime,” said Sen. Michael Noland, the Senate sponsor of the legislation. “With this measure the Senate and House take an important step in the right direction. The benefits we will see from this plan are innumerable.”

It will be sent the governor after a second bill passes to address some concerns. One such concern addresses ensuring court records of the fines could be expunged without a court order.

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly declined to comment on whether the governor would sign the bill, saying he would “carefully consider any legislation that crosses his desk.”

The vote comes the same day the Senate also approved a measure extending Illinois’ medical marijuana program by two or more years. That also heads to the governor’s office, although Rauner is skeptical of extending the program.

More than a dozen states have removed jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for marijuana law reform.

Marijuana advocacy and civil liberties groups see the effort as a step toward broader marijuana decriminalization. Some Republican lawmakers object to it for the same reason.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy is the original sponsor. She has said the measure isn’t about decriminalization, but addressing racial disparities in enforcing marijuana possession.

“This is not, frankly, decriminalizing. This is not legalizing,” the Chicago Democrat said recent Senate committee. “This is uniform enforcement.”

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Online: HB218