State of Cannabis: Illinois

Illinois and MarijuanaThis is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We have finally crossed the half-way point. The states featured going forward generally have mixed laws when it comes to cannabis. Some good, some bad, and some ugly. Today we turn to number 22: Illinois.

Our previous rankings are as follows: 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah;  31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.


Criminal Penalties. The possession of any amount of marijuana in Illinois can earn a fine and jail time. Illinois punishes marijuana possession as follows:

  • Less than 2.5 grams earns up to 30 days imprisonment and a maximum fine of $1,500.
  • 2.5-10 grams earns up to 6 months imprisonment and a maximum fine of $1,500.
  • 10-30 grams earns up to 1 year in prison and a maximum fine of $2,500 for the first offense. Subsequent offenses earn a sentence of 1-6 years and a $25,000 fine.
  • 30-500 grams earns 1-6 years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $25,000 for the first offense. Subsequent offenses earn a sentence of 2-10 years and a maximum fine of $25,000.
  • 500-2,000 grams earns 2-10 years of imprisonment and a maximum $25,000 fine.
  • 2,000-5,000 grams earns 3-14 years of imprisonment and a maximum $25,000 fine.
  • Over 5,000 grams earns 4-30 years imprisonment and a maximum $25,000 fine.

Illinois uses stricter measures in dealing with a person who manufactures, delivers, or possesses with the intent to manufacture or deliver. The manufacture or sale of marijuana is punished based on the amount of marijuana, per the below:

  • Less than 2.5 grams or less of marijuana earns up to 6 months of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $1,500.
  • 2.5 – 10 earns up to 1 year of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $2,500.
  • 10 – 30 grams earns 1-6 years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $25,000.
  • 30 – 500 grams earns 2-10 years of imprisonment, and a maximum fine of $50,000.
  • 500 – 2,000 grams earns 3-14 years of imprisonment, and a maximum fine of $100,000.
  • 2,000 – 5,000 grams earns 4-30 years of imprisonment, and a maximum fine of $150,000.
  • Over 5,000 grams earns a sentence of 6-60 years, and a maximum fine of $200,000.

Medical marijuana. Illinois legalized medical marijuana on August 1, 2013 when Governor Quinn signed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act. The program went into effect on January 1, 2014. For a patient to legally obtain medical marijuana, they must meet certain criteria. Patients must be Illinois residents at the time of the application and they must have a qualifying debilitating medical condition. The list of conditions is fairly long, but does not include patients suffering from chronic pain. The patient must obtain a signed certification from a physician. Patients are required to submit to a fingerprint-based background check and must not have been convicted of a drug related felony. Only residents over the age of 18 are allowed medical marijuana.  Active duty law enforcement officers, correctional officers, and firefighters are also excluded under Illinois law.

Illinois’ medical marijuana program has been met with a fair amount of criticism. In January, we expressed some of our concerns with the program:

[T]he major problem with Illinois’ medical cannabis program is that its list of qualifying conditions does not include chronic pain, which is what qualifies the vast majority of card holders in medical cannabis states. When we commented in June 2014 on Crain’s estimate that 75,000 to 100,000 patients would apply in the first year of the program, we were skeptical, but still optimistic. The real numbers are just a fraction of that: approximately 5,200 prospective patients have completed applications since September 2014. It is now clear that the lack of patients is rendering Illinois’s medical marijuana program downright dysfunctional. Just last week High Times reported that Illinois dispensary owners worry they may face bankruptcy unless they get more patients, and fast. (Of course, federal bankruptcy is not available to businesses dealing in cannabis; read here and here.) Forbes just published a similar doomsday piece. We don’t like to be Debbie Downers, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to stay optimistic about the marijuana industry in Illinois.

The Illinois medical marijuana program is restricted and flawed, but is expanding slowly and slightly. The Governor signed off on legislation to extend Illinois’s pilot program to 2020 and expand the list of qualifying conditions to include post traumatic stress disorder and terminal illness. The number of enrolled patients has increased significantly, with roughly 8,000 currently enrolled.

Bottomline. The Land of Lincoln has some harsh criminal penalties for marijuana. Possession of even one gram can earn a month in jail. This sort punishment is unjust and out-dated and it is unfortunate that Illinois has been unable to reform its cannabis criminal laws.Though recent changes indicate Illinois is looking to loosen its medical cannabis program, it still has one of the more restrictive medical  cannabis regimes in the country and that leads to its middle-of-the-pack ranking of 22 out of 50 on cannabis.

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