Illinois can’t be the California of the Midwest. That title was awarded to Michigan in 2008 when it became the first state in the region to legalize medical marijuana. Proposal 08-1, an initiative to allow marijuana cultivation and use for certain medical conditions, received more than 63 percent of the popular vote, according to ProCon.org. I’m certain that kind of response would never happen in Illinois, but nevertheless, our state is not far behind the 18 other states and Washington, D.C., that have legalized medical marijuana.
The Illinois General Assembly commenced its annual veto session Nov. 27 in Springfield, during which they are scheduled to confer on a number of topics, including House Bill 30. The bill includes the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, which would allow patients with certain conditions and illnesses to purchase and use up to 2.5 ounces of pot for a two-week period.
Rep. Lou Lang (D-16th), who has tried to push the bill through the House since he introduced it in late 2010, has been a few votes shy of the 60 needed for a majority in past sessions. But he has the added benefit this time of 36 lame duck congressmen who could be swayed to vote for the initiative. If passed, Illinois will be the second most populous state in the nation after California to legalize medical marijuana, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group supporting the legalization of pot. Whether the act will pass remains to be seen, but if it is, Illinois will not go up in smoke as some skeptics have suggested.
First of all, the act is rigid and comprehensive enough that it leaves little room for nonpatients to get their hands on the green. The bill states that only one medical marijuana dispensary would be allowed in each Senate district, and the statewide limit would be set at 59. Also, only those with a “debilitating medical condition,” such as cancer, Crohn’s disease or epilepsy, who have qualified medical insurance, would be eligible for the program. On top of this, patients must exhaust all other means of pain relief before they can be recommended for the program. Jumping through these hoops would be a near impossible feat for casual users.
Of course, there will be people who will try to take advantage of the proposed law, but it will be difficult for them because the bill specifies who is eligible for the use of medical marijuana and clearly defines regulations regarding its sale and distribution.
These exhaustive specifications will enable police to confidently enforce marijuana violations, something that has become a problem in The Golden State. California’s Proposition 215, which legalized medical pot, is far less comprehensive and restrictive. Even California Attorney General Kamala Harris told state lawmakers in 2011 that the proposition needed to be revised to clarify rules for using, cultivating and distributing marijuana, according to Reason.com.
Illinois already has some of the most stringent marijuana laws and policies in the nation, and they won’t become more lenient if HB 30 passes. Under Illinois’ Cannabis Control Act, those caught with 2.5 grams of marijuana will be found guilty of a Class C misdemeanor and must pay a fixed $200 fine. According to Illinois statutes, offenders could also be jailed up to 30 days. People found with 10 to 30 grams of marijuana are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor and could spend up to one year in prison, according to marijuana reform organization NORML. With each subsequent offense, incarceration time and the maximum fine increase.
However, users in Chicago are luckier than other Illinois residents because in June the City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal that gives police officers the discretion to issue citations for possessing up to 15 grams of marijuana rather than make arrests.
In contrast, California considers possession of 28.5 grams of marijuana or less a mere infraction with a maximum fine of $100, according to NORML. Additionally, possession of more than 28.5 grams is only a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $500 and a 6-month jail sentence. Even in Utah, which has not legalized the use of medical marijuana, those found carrying 1 ounce of pot or less face a maximum fine of $1,000, according to NORML.
Illinois legislators are currently sitting on what could be one of the most encompassing medical marijuana statutes in the U.S., if not the most. Because of this, chances for misinterpreting the proposed law are very slim. Unless law enforcement suddenly decides to stop doing its job, state policies will continue to suppress large-scale marijuana use even after medical marijuana is legalized, and Illinois will not sink into the fiery depths of hedonism.