Illinois state Rep. Kelly Cassidy’s bill, which would replace criminal penalties for the possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana with a civil fine, passed the Illinois Senate today on a vote of 37-19. The bill will soon be sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk for his signature. While he has not signaled any opposition to the measure, it is critical that he hear from Illinoisans in support of this historic bill.
The bill does several important things. First, it removes the possibility of arrest and jail for those in possession of a small amount of marijuana. It also prevents harming a person’s criminal record, which could limit future job prospects as well as housing and educational options. And because many communities have already removed criminal penalties for possession while others have not, the bill helps ensure that all residents in Illinois will be treated similarly under the law, regardless of where they live.
Last month, the Maryland Legislature sent Gov. Larry Hogan (R) a bill to remove the criminal penalty for possession of marijuana paraphernalia. The time for Gov. Hogan to act on this bill is running out, so please email him todayand encourage him to sign this reform into law.
By removing the criminal penalty for possessing marijuana paraphernalia, SB 517 will fix the current legal absurdity that makes possessing a small amount of marijuana a civil citation (like a traffic violation), but makes possessing the container that marijuana is in a criminal violation. Without this fix, the door is left open to selective, biased enforcement, which wastes law enforcement time and effort that would be better spent protecting our communities from violent crime.
In April, SB 162, introduced by Sen. Arthur Orr, passed the Alabama Senate. It now awaits action in the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. This bill would declare anyone with five nanograms of THC per milliliter in their blood guilty of driving under the influence — regardless of whether the person was actually impaired!
Although intoxicated driving should not be tolerated, knee jerk ideas like per se limits for THC are unethical, unscientific, and unnecessary. Alabama already criminalizes impaired driving. This bill would unfairly target medical marijuana patients who could have higher levels of THC in their blood without being impaired.
Recent peer-reviewed studies have concluded that low levels of active THC can remain in a person’s system long after the intoxicating effects of THC have worn off — sometimes for several days. THC levels can even increase in a person’s bloodstream days after consuming marijuana, but without the person being impaired. SB 162 would therefore result in individuals who are not impaired to be found guilty of DUI-D.
This week, we began airing a TV ad in Texas featuring Russell Jones, a retired narcotics detective and Texas Hill Country resident. Jones says that people under the influence of marijuana are much less problematic than people under the influence of alcohol, and that “law enforcement officials have more important things to do with their time.” Its primary purpose: to urge lawmakers to support HB 507, which would reduce criminal penalties for marijuana possession in the Lone Star State.
Tomorrow, the Louisiana House of Representatives will consider HB 149, a bill that would reduce the penalties for second and subsequent marijuana possession charges. Although penalties would still be staggering for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol, HB 149 is an important step forward — it could shave years off of marijuana consumers’ sentences.
While first offense marijuana possession would remain a misdemeanor and subsequent possession charges would remain felonies, HB 149 would significantly reduce the amount of time a marijuana consumer could spend in prison for a second or subsequent marijuana possession conviction. For instance, HB 149 would reduce the maximum sentence for a second conviction from five years to two years. It would also reduce the possible fine.
Louisiana has some of the most draconian marijuana laws in the country, and HB 149 would be a positive step toward sensible reform.