Articles Tagged with Marijuana

esteban-lopez-234052-copy-300x200The Chicago legislature has recently put laws in place that allow farmers to grow industrial hemp. This is a replacement of the old regime under which such actions were barred. A system of permits ensures that issues of public safety and good conduct are taken into consideration. Hemp belongs to the family of the cannabis plant. Although it can be used as a narcotic in sufficiently strong concentrations, it is also used to make textiles as well as paper-based industrial products. Farmers could potentially earn an income from this plant that is also on the banned list of substances. The old law was caught between encouraging genuine commercial activity and preventing the large-scale production of potential narcotics. The initial plan was to allow the cultivation for research purposes and then move on to commercial production for non-narcotic usage.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture is intimately involved in all the proceedings so as to ensure appropriate oversight. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) previously classified hemp as a Schedule 1 Drug. That meant that farms could not legally grow it, certainly not on an industrial scale. The classification was based on the findings that the drug had a high potential for abuse. Those who dispute the classification argue that hemp contains only trace elements of the offending substance known as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This is indeed the psychoactive chemical that is known to create a high for marijuana users. Over time, a number of states (now numbering 16) have gradually legalized the production of hemp for commercial purposes. By 2014, Illinois had put legislation in place to allow for the growing of hemp by State Universities and the Department of Agriculture.

The Narcotic with Huge Potential

Macro_cannabis_budEven as some states such as Colorado move to deregulate some previously controlled substances or drugs, Chicago still grapples with the offense of Marijuana possession. At the moment, the state has decriminalized possession but not the actual smoking of pot, which in itself represents a dangerous contradiction. People buy and secure marijuana (often at a great cost) in order to smoke it. Allowing possession whilst banning consumption seems to be one of those incidents in which lawmakers are just too stubborn to admit that they may have made a mistake. Instead they are being dragged screaming and scratching into reality. The consequence for the public is a sequential law that is often riddled with inconsistencies.

The state of the law at the moment must be confusing the potheads and maybe that it is how it was intended. For the defense attorney things are much clearer. Although the client may be arrested for smoking, it is usually the possession that begins the chain of offending that is of interest to the prosecutor. Some localities like Cook County have used prosecutorial policy and discretion to bring more rationality to the law. Hence arrests are made for first and second time offenders but it is rare to make it to the court unless there are other pending matters that the prosecutor wishes to deal with as the defendant is in custody. The Chicago police department also routinely fines those who are caught holding pot. This policy makes sense since everybody knows that you only hold pot when you intend to smoke it or resell it to someone else or hold it for another form of exchange.

The Mechanics and Intentions of the Law

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Throughout the United States, a remarkable change of heart and mind about the use of marijuana is in progress, and Illinois has joined in, albeit with some resistance. There are currently 38 states with some type of medical marijuana program, 16 states that have decriminalized smaller amounts of marijuana possession, and two states that have legalized the recreational use of cannabis.

In 2016, two more states will legalize recreational marijuana, and Illinois is poised to join the 16 other states that have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. As it now stands, however, marijuana possession remains a crime in the state of Illinois (even though the City of Chicago decriminalized marijuana on its own in 2012 and moved to a ticketing system). While the marijuana laws will most likely change in the near future, you still should be aware of the current laws governing possession of cannabis.

Marijuana Laws in Illinois

The Illinois legislature is considering enacting new laws that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The proposed bills fall short of legalizing pot, as Colorado and Washington do, but would instead align Illinois with 16 other states that no longer incarcerate individuals caught with small amounts intended for personal use. The bills are part of a growing movement that perceives marijuana as less dangerous than other drugs. They also seek to alleviate the burden of arrest, prosecution and incarceration of individuals caught with small recreational amounts.

Proposed Changes to Illinois Possession of Marijuana Laws

There are three bills currently working their way through the Illinois legislature seeking to lessen the penalties for different forms of marijuana possession.  weed-403-m

Two bills seek to lower the penalties for marijuana possession for personal use, and increase the amount of marijuana that is considered “for personal use”.

House Bill 5708, which was introduced by Reps. Kelly M. Cassidy and La Shawn K. Ford of Chicago, would classify possession of not more than 30 grams of marijuana or any marijuana-containing substance as a petty offense. Those in possession would receive a ticket and be fined $100. Possession of anywhere from 30-500 grams would be classified as a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense, and a Class 4 felony for a second offense. Currently Class 4 felony and Class 3 felony for a second offense.

House Bill 4299, sponsored by Chicago Rep. Christian Mitchell, makes similar changes to the law as House Bill 5708, but varies the amounts allowed for possession. Under Rep. Mitchell’s bill, possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana would be a petty offense punishable by no more than a $100 fine.  Possession of between 10 and 30 grams would also be a petty offense punishable by no more than a $100 fine for a first offense; a second offense would be a Class A misdemeanor (currently it’s a Class 4 felony).

Chicago Rep. Michael Zalewski introduced House Bill 4091, which would reclassify possession of not more than 30 grams of marijuana as a petty offense, unless the individual had two or more prior convictions, in which case he would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.

Cost of Prosecution for Illinois Marijuana Possession

Part of the rationale behind the proposed changes in the marijuana possession law is the cost involved in prosecuting what are essentially victimless crimes. In 2011, 663,032 people were arrested nationwide for marijuana possession. There were 100,000 more arrests that year for marijuana possession than for violent crimes. More people were arrested for smoking dope, when the only arguable victim was him or herself, than people arrested for actually causing harm to another person.

Chicago arrests follow that trend – an average of 23,000 arrests each year for marijuana possession, about equal to the number of arrests for assault and battery combined. And the city is spending approximately $78 million to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate these so-called “offenders.” The Chicago police estimate it takes two officers approximately three hours to arrest an individual for marijuana possession, from the time they slap the cuffs on him to the time they file their paperwork. Three hours for the “crime” of lighting up takes away man hours that could be spent patrolling the streets looking for other crimes.

There is also the human cost involved with arrest for marijuana possession. There is the cost to the defendant of hiring an experienced attorney to help defend the case. Under the current law conviction under the lowest offense, a Class C misdemeanor, could result in up to 30 days in jail and up to a $1,500 fine. A person convicted may be required to report the misdemeanor on future job, housing or school applications, putting his ability to work and live where he wants in jeopardy. Continue reading