On May 21, after much debate, the Senate passed legislation that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
House Bill 218 would eliminate any criminal penalties or treatment requirements for possession of 15 grams or less of cannabis. Under this bill, a person could be caught with 15 grams of cannabis dozens of times and the toughest punishment that could be given is a $125 fine. In addition, the arrest and records would be automatically expunged each year.
Proponents of the legislation said it creates a uniform penalty throughout the state, and was crafted with input from prosecutors and law enforcement. They also noted that by eliminating the option for police to arrest people carrying small amounts of cannabis, the bill will help relieve an overcrowded court system and ensures future education, job, and housing prospects would not be jeopardized for low-level marijuana violations.
Opponents raised concerns about public safety, social implications, and the negative message it sends to our youth, pointing out that 15 grams of marijuana makes over 35 joints. They emphasized that the legislation replaces criminal sanctions with a civil fine of as little as $55, and expressed concerns that drug dealers will take advantage of changes in the law by only carrying 15 grams or slightly less on their person to prevent breaking any law. They also expressed concerns about the lack of zero tolerance driver’s license sanctions by the Secretary of State, and noted that that regardless of whether states decriminalize cannabis or allow for medical cannabis, using marijuana continues to be an offense under Federal law.