By Rev. Alexander E. Sharp
Once again, Illinois is on the cusp of providing civil enforcement, not criminal penalties, for the possession of low-level amounts of marijuana. SB 2228 (see fact sheet), which passed the General Assembly on May 18, now sits on Governor Rauner’s desk – for the second time.
If Governor Rauner signs the legislation, Illinois would become the 21st state to stop jailing individuals for low-level marijuana possession. The General Assembly passed a similar bill over a year ago. The Governor blocked it with an amendatory veto.
Many you will recall the press conference on December 11, 2015, at which 15 clergy joined Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-14th) in announcing she would introduce this legislation again. At that time, Rev. Myron McCoy, Senior Minister of the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, observed that “it accomplishes little, if anything, to arrest anywhere from 40,000 to 50,000 individuals for low –level marijuana use in Illinois every year. “In a time when our state coffers are limited, the current law wastes public funds and greatly impedes the future of many of our citizens. I firmly believe we can do better, as a society and as a state.”
SB 2228 responds to the Governor’s insistence on a higher fine, and a reduction in the amount of marijuana that can be legally possessed. It continues to reflect our critical concerns that current marijuana laws “undermine an individual’s access to employment, education, public assistance, and housing,” are “highly discriminatory against people of color,” and divert resources from “more urgent enforcement priorities.” Please join us in urging Governor Rauner to sign the legislation now before him.