Illinois Governor Working with Police on Marijuana Bill

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Gov. Bruce Rauner is working with the Illinois State Police on how to handle a proposal to make marijuana possession in small amounts punishable only with fines under a bill he appears poised to sign.

The legislation, which also sets a standard for what’s considered too high to drive, includes stronger provisions the Republican governor suggested to lawmakers last year as a condition for signing off on removing jail time for having 10 grams or less of pot. A chief sponsor of this year’s bill, Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, said the Rauner administration has assured her he will sign the bill but is waiting until next month to give law enforcement time to prepare for its implementation.

The bill comes as many states reconsider whether jail is the most appropriate punishment for petty pot offenses. If signed, Illinois would be the 17th state – and third largest – to treat possession of marijuana in small amounts as a civil offense rather than a criminal one, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which tracks legislation on the topic nationally. New York and California are among the states that have made the change.

Rauner has indicated support for reducing penalties for marijuana offenses, but his spokeswoman said in a statement he’s still reviewing the bill.

Lawmakers sent Rauner the bill June 16 and he has 60 days from that date to take action.

The proposal passed with bipartisan support, but some in law enforcement have reservations. Greg Sullivan, the executive director of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, said the bill doesn’t differentiate between minors and adults who are caught with small amounts of pot, and that the new approach may not bring proper attention to problem use by minors.

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