The term "decriminalize" confuses a lot of people when it comes to marijuana law in Illinois. Many people believe that state decriminalization means that it's no longer possible to go to jail for marijuana. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
While some people who use marijuana will escape criminal prosecution under the state decriminalization law, many more people could still be subject to arrest and prosecution. Decriminalization means that those who get caught by law enforcement in possession of a small amount (ten grams or less) of natural state marijuana won't face jail time.
Instead, the possession gets treated as civil infractions, which result in a ticket. For those who are in possession of more than the cut-off amount, those who sell marijuana, those who grow it, or those who made or use marijuana extracts or infused food products, criminal penalties still apply. Of course, some people in these industries receive protection under the state's Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, but many more people continue to use marijuana recreationally with the protection of the state's medical marijuana programs. What's left is a huge gray area for many Illinois citizens.
What kind of actions does decriminalization in Illinois protect?
Previously, possession of small amounts of marijuana was punishable by as much as six months in jail and a fine of $1,500. Under decriminalization, however, those who are in possession of less than ten grams of marijuana will only have to worry about a fine of between $100 and $200 (and confiscation of the marijuana).
This has reduced the number of petty marijuana offenses clogging up the criminal justice system, but it doesn't mean that you can't get charged for marijuana offenses. In reality, if you're caught with a larger amount, you could still face real penalties.
If you are arrested for possession of between ten and thirty grams of marijuana, you'll still be facing misdemeanor charges that carry up to a year in jail and a fine of as much as $2,500. More critically, if you have a previous conviction or guilty plea for a marijuana offense involving more than ten grams, that punishment increases to between one and six years in jail and a fine of as much as $25,000.
Those who get caught growing it, selling it, or carrying large amounts (between thirty and 500 grams) will be facing felony charges with similar penalties of up to six years in jail and up to $25,000 in fines.
An attorney can help you fight marijuana charges
You may not think a marijuana charge is a big deal, since so many states are legalizing the plant outright. However, a conviction or guilty plea could keep you from getting federal student aid, the job or your dreams or even housing in a good neighborhood. An attorney can review your situation and help you determine the best way to address it.