SPRINGFIELD, IL - Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner appears poised to sign into law a bill that makes marijuana possession in certain amounts punishable only with fines. The legislation includes provisions the governor suggested to lawmakers last year as a condition for signing off on removing jail time for pot possession. The chief sponsor of this year’s bill, left-wing Democrat Sen. Heather Steans, 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.
Opponents of the bill include the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, which is concerned that it doesn’t differentiate between minors and adults who are caught with pot, and that the new approach might not bring proper attention to problem use by minors.
“As long as someone can afford the fines, guess what, I may never know it as a parent. I’ve got a problem with that,” said Greg Sullivan, executive director of the Illinois Sheriff's Association.
Opponents are also concerned that reducing penalties for marijuana possession sends a message that it isn’t harmful.
Arguing for the bill, liberal Democrat Rep. Kelly Cassidy used the race card, saying: “We have a system where, where you live or what you look like determines whether you get a ticket.”
The legislation also requires municipalities to purge citation records for possession every six months. Supporters of the bill argue people shouldn’t be saddled with lifelong criminal records when they break the law.
When Rauner reluctantly vetoed last year’s legislation, he told lawmakers that the existing penalties for marijuana offenses were “too severe” and that “criminal prosecution of cannabis possession is also a drain on public resources;” but that he supports “the fundamental purposes” of the initiative.
He said he would sign the proposal if sponsors made the minor changes he wanted, which they have.