Rauner vetoes bill to decriminalize marijuana

By David Stage

Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana on Aug. 14.

He amended the bill to make the legal amount smaller and increase fines for possession. The Illinois General Assembly can either pass the bill as amended by the governor or the bill will die.

The original bill proposed to decriminalize the possession of marijuana under 15 grams and fines ranged from $55 to $125; Rauner lowered the decriminalized amount to 10 grams and increased fines from $100 to $200.

House sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, said she has, “seen first-hand the long-term and serious effects that even the smallest conviction can have on someone’s livelihood.”

She said a conviction for the possession of marijuana can affect many important aspects of a person’s life, such as finding a job, buying a car, getting a loan or renting a home. The bill proposed to expunge records of the ticket after six months, which Ammons said would assist offenders in being a productive member of society.

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    Another one of the goals of the bill was to reduce the prison population. In an executive order establishing the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, Rauner proposed his goal to reduce the prison population in Illinois by 25 percent by 2025 due to high cost and overcrowding in the cells. According to the order, Illinois prisons currently cost the state $1.3 billion a year and the Illinois prison system is operating at 150 percent of its capacity.

    Dan Walsh, Champaign county sheriff, said the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana should not cause any significant issues for law enforcement, but he worries about the negative effect it can have on young people.

    Walsh also said he is worried about the driving restrictions; the amended bill proposed by Rauner stated that drivers must have at least five nanograms of marijuana per milliliter of blood in their system to be considered driving under the influence.

    Opponents of the bill have voiced similar concerns, such as teenage use, driving under the influence and increased use in all age groups.

    “As a parent, I understand that the most important factor is going to be having personal conversations with your kids not only about marijuana, but alcohol and other drugs in order to help them make responsible choices,” Ammons said. 

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