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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Local Changes May be Required to Comply with Changes to Cannabis Control Act

In late July, Governor Rauner signed into law Public Act 99-697, amending the Cannabis Control Act, 720 ILCS 550/1, et seq, the Drug Paraphernalia Control Act, 720 ILCS 600/1, et seq. and a variety of other laws to relax some of the penalties surrounding cannabis possession. This law specifically modifies how low-level state possession offenses are treated but also may affect municipal ordinance violations for similar offenses.

The law has not changed the fact that possession of cannabis, even in small quantities, remains illegal.  Under the amended law, however, possession of less than ten (10) grams of cannabis is no longer treated as a criminal offense. Instead, it is a civil violation that carries with it a fine of $100 to $200, similar to a traffic citation.  Likewise, possessing drug paraphernalia only in connection with having up to 10 grams of cannabis is now downgraded from a misdemeanor to a non-criminal fine-based penalty. 

Another important piece of this new law is that any local police records related to tickets issued for cannabis possession at this lowest level of up to 10 grams, as well as any tickets issued for drug paraphernalia seized along with the less-than-10-grams pot threshold, must be expunged (destroyed) twice each year (January 1 and July 1). This requirement becomes effective 6 months after the effective date of the law, so municipalities have time to put together policies for compliance with this new expungement obligation.

In addition, the misdemeanor and penalty schedules for greater amounts of cannabis possession were also relaxed. Under the new law, possession of 10 to 30 grams of cannabis (previously qualifying as a Class A misdemeanor with up to one year in jail and fines ranging from $750 to $3,250) now qualifies as a lesser Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six (6) months in jail and a fine of up to $1,500.  Possession of greater amounts of cannabis has also been ratcheted downward, with someone now having to possess 100 grams of cannabis to qualify for a first-offense felony. 

Finally, the law allows local governments to establish its own fine schedule for low level offenses relating to possession of cannabis when tickets are written under its own ordinances that can vary from the state established fines. However, non-home rule governments are more restricted in how they treat drug paraphernalia offenses, even under local ordinances.

Many municipalities will have to review their current ordinances to determine whether they are consistent with the new state law, and decide whether they will process low-level cannabis offenses on a local level (i.e., through municipal court or administrative adjudication) or through the state court system. The latter approach may be less desirable for many municipalities because of the required distribution of fine proceeds set out in the new law.

Post Authored by Mark Heinle, Ancel Glink


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