Bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana goes to Rauner

  • Lawmakers approved decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, giving the final say to Gov. Bruce Rauner.

    Lawmakers approved decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, giving the final say to Gov. Bruce Rauner. Associated Press File Photo

 
 
Updated 5/21/2015 5:51 PM

People caught with fewer than 15 grams of marijuana would be slapped with a fine instead of possible jail time if Gov. Bruce Rauner approves.

State Sen. Mike Noland, an Elgin Democrat, won approval in the Illinois Senate Thursday to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. He said the substance remains illegal but the plan would "put a lid on the boiling pot" of people entering the state's prison system for smaller drug offenses.

 

"It is still illegal to possess a small amount of cannabis," Noland said.

Some Republicans saw things differently. State Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican, said he thinks there's some merit to the idea in general but didn't like Noland's plan.

"I do not believe this is the best solution," Oberweis said. "I believe we could do much better."

The Illinois Senate approved by a 37-19 vote. The House approved last month.

The Senate also voted to extend the state's four-year experiment with medical marijuana. Bureaucratic delays means no one in Illinois has legally bought medical marijuana yet.

Supporters argue the state should get a full four years to see if the program is worth keeping, so lawmakers sent Rauner a proposal to start the four-years clock when the first dispensary opens, maybe later this year.

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Rauner cast doubt that he'd approve the idea.

"The governor believes there is a lot of time left to evaluate a pilot program, and we should not extend the program until it has been fully evaluated," spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said.

She didn't commit either way about Noland's decriminalization plan, saying the governor would review it.

Under the proposal, residents found to be in possession of up to 15 grams of cannabis would be punished with a maximum $125 fine. Possession of 15 grams of cannabis is currently a crime that could involve jail time and fines up to $2,500.

Noland said his proposal lets local communities keep fines of more than $125.

It also would set limits for driving under the influence of marijuana.

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