Elgin lawmaker: Let people have up to 5 pot plants
An Elgin lawmaker wants to eliminate the criminal penalties for carrying up to 30 grams of marijuana and allow Illinoisans to have up to five pot plants each.
State Sen. Mike Noland, an Elgin Democrat, introduced a proposal that would allow people over age 21 in Illinois to carry up to 30 grams of marijuana at any time. Noland said it would also allow use of the drug by adults anywhere that it is legal to smoke tobacco.
Noland said decriminalizing the drug restores liberty and freedom to adults who wish to use marijuana and "allows law enforcement to go after more important criminals."
But Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas sees things differently.
"To say that police are not focusing on violent crime is a ridiculous argument," Thomas said. "A good debate in the legislative session is important, but people need to listen to those in the business."
Since the drug trade becomes a main source of business for gangs, law enforcement can use knowledge of the gang's drug habits to take violent gang members off the streets, he said.
"One thing the police can do is go after the economic issue by going after gang members who would use violence to protect their drug turf and drug trade," Thomas said.
Illinois is in the process of developing a medical marijuana pilot program, which has been plagued by delays. The law was approved in 2013, but dispensaries haven't yet been established.
Under current law, a first time offense for carrying less than 30 grams of marijuana is considered a misdemeanor, with penalties ranging up to 12 months in jail. Anyone caught with 10 to 30 grams of marijuana on a second offense faces a mandatory minimum of one year incarceration under felony charges.
The legislation doesn't allow the retail sale of marijuana. So while people wouldn't be subject to arrest for carrying the drug, it would still be illegal to sell it. Illinoisans would have the opportunity to grow it, though, as Noland's legislation would allow people over 21 to have up to five cannabis sativa plants.
"There isn't any retail storefront for recreational marijuana in this legislation," National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws Executive Director Dan Linn said. That's the difference between completely legalizing marijuana and decriminalization, Linn says.
Noland says taking smaller drug crimes out of the picture could help address part of the state's financial problems.
"Given our fiscal crisis here in the state, we really have to decide what our priorities are in the area of criminal justice, and we have to reduce the very high price people in the state pay for justice," Noland said.
It's unclear yet how much scrutiny this piece of legislation will receive, but Thomas says definitively it is not something he would support.
"That's a significant amount of marijuana to carry around. It moves way beyond a medical use to a recreational use," Thomas said.