Legislation to extend the state’s medical cannabis pilot program and decriminalize small amounts of cannabis advanced out of Senate committees this week.
Helping reduce the number of non-violent offenders in the state’s overburdened court and correctional systems is one of the primary objectives of House Bill 218. The legislation would reduce penalties for possession of 15 grams or less of cannabis, making the offense punishable by a maximum $125 fine.
However, opponents point out marijuana continues to be an offense under Federal law, and a number of law enforcement organizations are concerned about the impact of a provision in the bill that establishes THC levels—the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects—that are allowable while driving. Additionally, challengers of House Bill 218 note that the state just approved the medical marijuana program and has not yet had the opportunity to analyze its impact of communities, let alone the impact of decriminalization of cannabis for recreational use.
Proponents, including the Illinois States Attorney Association, argue that the bill will create a uniform penalty throughout the state, and could help relieve an overcrowded court system. Additionally, they say it makes it easier to prosecute drivers found to be under the influence of cannabis.
On a related front, the sponsors of the state’s medical cannabis pilot program are asking for more time to analyze the program’s impact in Illinois. They’ve introduced House Bill 3299, which would extend the current January 1, 2018 repeal date of the program, changing it to four years after the filing of the first dispensary organize registration; likewise, patient registry cards would be extended from one year from that date.
Opponents say it’s too soon to extend the program, noting that at this time there is nothing to examine to see if it is worth extending. Registration for the dispensaries and cultivation centers have only recent been issued, and patients have not yet began using medical cannabis for treatment