Lawmakers want stiffer penalty for heroin dealers
SPRINGFIELD - Illinois lawmakers voted Tuesday to tighten penalties for heroin possession, attempting to close loopholes prosecutors and police say have led to the narcotic's rise in popularity in the Chicago area.
The Senate voted 54-1 in favor of making felony possession of 1 to 15 grams of heroin punishable by up to 15 years in prison. That's up from seven years and would bring the penalties in line with those for cocaine possession.
"We are trying to take away the tactical advantage of selling heroin," said state Sen. David Sullivan, a Park Ridge Republican and the plan's sponsor. "This is a logical step of bringing penalties for heroin in line with cocaine."
The House already approved the measure, and it now goes to Gov. George Ryan for consideration.
Sullivan said Chicago and the suburbs recently have seen a dramatic increase in heroin use. As a result, dealers are using the loophole in the state's drug possession laws.
Scott Seder, a Cook County state's attorney spokesman, said dealers now often carry 12 packets of heroin weighing 0.1 grams each and sell the packets for $10 a piece. The dealers sell the 1.2-gram total before they restock and therefore minimize the risk of potential prison time if caught, he said.
State Sen. Robert Molaro, a Chicago Democrat, was the only vote against the plan, citing concerns with prison crowding.
The proposal also requires prison for a person found guilty of distributing or manufacturing 5 or more grams of heroin.
Sullivan said the new penalty is aimed at discouraging use.
The Daily Herald recently detailed the suburbs' growing heroin and club drug problem in a four-part series called "The Hidden Scourge." The series detailed the abuse that took at least 13 young lives last year and it explored answers to a problem few wanted to acknowledge publicly.