State bill could reduce penalties for marijuana possession

Sydney Edwards, Staff Reporter

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated as of 11:20 a.m. 6/3/15 to include further information from deputy chief Jason Taylor.

The Illinois Senate passed House Bill 218 on May 21 lowering the amount of marijuana a person can possess before receiving a felony charge.

If approved by the governor, the bill would amend the Cannabis Control Act so that someone possessing between 30 and 500 grams of marijuana would receive a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class 4 felony for a subsequent offense.

Presently, the first offense is a Class 4 felony and a subsequent offense is a Class 3 felony.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Cassidy, would also make the possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana a petty offense with a $100 fine rather than any type of misdemeanor.

According to an article in the Chicago TribuneCassidy said the bill aims at making uniform penalties for marijuana possession, rather than police officers subjectively basing them on things like location, appearance and race.

However, local officials such a Sen. Dale Righter do not agree with the change in law. Righter said in a statement that judges would not be able to give users, specifically youth, the treatment they need with this bill in place.

Jason Taylor, the deputy chief of the Mattoon Police Department, said he agreed with Righter on the issue.

“It smacks of the mandatory sentencing passed by Congress in the ‘80s and ties judges hands in the courtroom,” Taylor said.

Taylor said some teenagers smoke marijuana on a daily basis because they think they have a psychological or physical addiction. Taylor added that the bill would limit judges’ discretion in mandating treatment as part of sentencing.

Neither the University Police Department nor the Charleston Police Department were available for comment about the bill.

A bill legalizing medical marijuana in Illinois passed in January, and because of the recentness of the law, both Righter and Taylor said they were concerned that the state does not know much about the law’s effects.

Taylor said he hopes Gov. Bruce Rauner will veto the bill, and the fact that the bill passed the Senate disgusts him.

“This simply lowers the bar for acceptable behavior in society,” Taylor said. “You will see more cannabis in kids’ backpacks at school. This is making marijuana acceptable.”

Taylor also said the bill could potentially increase the costs of car accidents and health care, including treatment for addictions.

Righter said in his statement that the law would allow for someone to learn how to drive while their instructor is under the influence of marijuana.

Righter and Taylor both said they believe the law will cause destruction in the community.

“It reminds me of Rome. Nobody (could) take Rome. It (was) ruined and decayed from within,” Taylor said.

According to the bill’s description, the bill would result in 115 less inmates and $29,335,700 in potential cost savings in the first 10 years.

Taylor said he does not agree that the bill would save the state money.

This bill would also have affected sentencing in some recent local cases, such as one involving a teenager who was trying to buy marijuana and was robbed during the transaction, Taylor said.

In the past year, the Mattoon Police Department had 35 arrests under the Cannabis Control Act, 22 for methamphetamine, 31 for paraphernalia and 25 for controlled substances.

If the law is passed, Taylor said the legislation is supporting a “buzzed society.”

“There will be more forms of addiction. More people will be operating in a (numbed) state of mind,” Taylor said.


Sydney Edwards can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].