Illinois Cannabis Update

The Illinois General Assembly’s spring session is gathering steam before its late May adjournment. We wrote last month about several bills pending in the legislature and we are happy to report that some are making progress and could soon reach Governor Rauner’s desk.

Illinois CannabisFirst, HB218, which just passed the House, would essentially treat possession of small amounts of marijuana (up to 15 grams) similarly to speeding tickets, making it a civil offense. Offenders would face a fine of up to $125, with the record of such a fine subject to automatic expungement. The bill also provides for uniform enforcement throughout the state and creates the framework for DUID enforcement (a much-needed update). Hopes for HB218 are high: its proponents laud it as helping to alleviate racial and geographic disparities in drug enforcement; the Illinois state’s attorneys support it as allowing them to focus on violent crime; passage would help align state law with that of many municipalities that have de-criminalized small amounts of marijuana in recent years; and HB218 is projected to save the state millions. HB218 passed with bi-partisan support in the House (62-53) and is already under consideration in the Senate, where it is expected to be approved. Governor Rauner has spoken favorably of prison reform and cost-savings; we will see if he puts his money (or signature) where his mouth is.

Illinois’ fledgling medical cannabis industry is being thrown a lifeline in the form of HB3299, which would extend the pilot program’s sunset from December 31, 2017 to four years from the date of the opening of the first medical cannabis dispensary (so, roughly, Summer 2019). HB3299 passed the House with strong support (81-28) and is now in the Senate. The Governor has expressed some opposition, but it passed with more than enough votes to override any veto. Republican support probably means that the Governor will not want to use much-needed political capital to fight against cannabis when he has more pressing items on his legislative agenda.

If there was any question whether Illinois (or at least its politicians) was ready to consider legalization for recreational use, that question has now been answered with a resounding “no.” HB2750, which would have tasked the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council with studying the effects of taxing and regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol on a variety of other state laws and policies, recently failed. Though the measure passed the House’s judiciary committee, the full House rejected it by a 29-78 vote. Legalization proponents have their work cut out for them.

Another noteworthy development came last week from the Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. The State’s Attorney’s office announced (coincidentally?) on April 20 that it would no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana possession cases and would implement further reforms in drug cases. A spokeswoman stated that treatment may be sought in lieu of imprisonment in some cases, in the hopes of keeping non-violent offenders out of the system. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart supports Alvarez’s changes, calling it a “productive approach.” A Chicago Police Department spokesman noted that the measure would allow police to focus on more dangerous gun crimes. Seems like an all-around win.

As always, stay tuned for more.