For far too long, Illinois has had a patchwork of laws governing the use of cannabis, and State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) long felt that these laws were often based on irrelevant factors, and putting her full legislative weight behind changing them, her efforts paid off with Thursday’s passage of House Bill 218, by a 62-53 vote.
In her press release Cassidy noted the disparity by stating: “Illinois currently has over 100 local ordinances applying to cannabis possession” and “The difference between arrest and a ticket is completely arbitrary, and too often has been based on what you look like and where you live. This law provides a uniform standard ensuring fair and appropriate penalties.”
“Our current law is particularly hard on communities of color, and this bill helps bring standards that can apply to all residents of our state,” said Rev. Jason Coulter, pastor of Ravenswood United Church of Christ. “Not only does this law free up valuable law enforcement resources for serious crime, it helps ensure fairness in how the law affects lives regardless of where people live and how they look,” he said.
The bill imposes a statewide standard for cannabis possession, with a maximum of “$125 fine for possession of 15 grams or less, and automatic expungement,” upon payment of a fine, and most importantly it “implements scientifically proven standards for driving under the influence of cannabis and strengthens penalties for the dangerous production process of butane extracts.”
The existing laws often provided unintended consequences with lack of access to housing, education, and even, until recently access to federal financial aid, and other programs, and benefits.
“Illinois has seen far too much devastation in people’s lives from disproportionate marijuana penalties,” said Rev. Alexander E. Sharp, executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy, (a new Chicago based group that is mobilizing clergy nationally to end the War on Drugs), said Thursday, and added, “We know from experience here and across the country that harsh marijuana penalties don’t deter use — they just hurt our communities when individuals’ lives are harmed from life-altering criminal records.”
Cassidy worked with a coalition of people from the Cook County State’s Attorney, Sheriff’s Office and Public Defender, to numerous statewide organizations to gain support for the legislation.
Also praising the passage of the bill is Kathleen Kane-Willis, executive director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, who commented in an emailed statement, “Rep. Cassidy has been a leader on issues related to treating drug use a public health issue, and this bill moving forward represents substantive change – especially in the sealing of the civil violations for individuals possessing small amounts of marijuana. Many people do not understand the implications of having a marijuana conviction on their record, which can lead to barriers to employment, housing and education. We applaud Rep Cassidy for her work on this issue. She is a champion for social justice and human rights.”
Coming closely on Monday’s announcement from the State’s Attorney office that there will be changes in sentencing guidelines for low-level drug offenders, Cassidy’s bill brings the issue front, and forward for Illinois, but also joins a nationwide effort to change existing drug laws that are unfair.