Pot decriminalization bill vote could happen soon

Legislation is moving ahead to decriminalize small amounts of pot possession.
April 3, 2014 2:53:19 PM PDT
Legislation is moving ahead to decriminalize small amounts of pot possession.

An Illinois house bill could soon be voted on to eliminate criminal sanctions for having 30 grams or less of marijuana, enough for about 10 joints.

Thursday, marijuana advocates hailed the developments in Springfield, but opposition remains, even if American attitudes towards pot are changing.

Advocates for liberal pot laws said House Bill 5708 would eliminate criminal penalties and the possibility of a record for possessing up to 30 grams of marijuana.

A "regulatory offense" would be created which would prohibit arrest or jail time, limit fines to $100, and require the ticket to be removed from a person's record after the fine is paid.

"What we are saying is let's just wipe the slate clean," said Chris Lindsey, Marijuana Policy Project. "Let law enforcement focus on serious crime where people get hurt and not waste resources on something most Americans now want taxed and regulated."

"It is the lasting for a lifetime and the collateral consequences the things that are not tied directly to the sentence that matter so much and that this bill would help us get out from under," said Rev. Alexander Sharp, Community Renewal Society.

But there are voices in opposition, not the least of which is a former head of the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

"You are going to expose with a non-penalty much more use, much more abuse and much more addiction," said Peter Bensinger.

Bensinger says society is lost on a path that suggests marijuana use is harmless and cites a great many statistics, including recent data for Colorado where traffic fatalities spiked after more liberal drug laws were passed.

"Taking away a penalty, taking away a sanction is like removing a speed limit on a highway," he said.

Those who want changes in the law say that there have been 1 million arrests in Illinois from 1975-2009, involving more than 150,000 hours of police time. Eighty percent of the small possession charges brought in Chicago were eventually dismissed.


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