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Will Illinois see decriminalization of marijuana next year?

It could happen. A bill has cleared the Illinois legislature that would change the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana from their current level, which includes jail time and substantial fines to something more like a speeding violation.

If someone were in possession of 15 grams or less, they would not need to appear in court and the fine would be maximized at $125 dollars. Today, the fine could be as much as $2,500 and you could spend up to a year in jail. The determining factor whether this bill become law is if the governor will sign it.

For states like Illinois, much of the appeal in decriminalizing marijuana is the cost savings. By eliminating the need for a court appearance, it helps clear court dockets for more pressing matters and can mean not needing to hire more judges and increase the budget for court administration.

Many people support the law, viewing recreational use of marijuana as similar to have a drink of alcohol.

Given the severe, negative impact a criminal conviction can have on your ability to obtain student loans, find a place to live or get a job, making this a minor offense can help many people avoid the "scarlet letter" of a marijuana conviction that can haunt them for years to come.

It would also change the impaired driving law, removing the zero tolerance standard for THC. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, remains in the blood long after its intoxicating effects have faded. The new law would allow up to 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, and slightly more in the saliva.

Decriminalization differs from legalization, in that use of marijuana would not be "legal," but the criminal penalties for low-level violations would be reduced to the point where they would not destroy a person's life.

Legalization is seen by many as the eventual outcome of decriminalization, but the politics of the state capitol are such that such a step is not possible yet for Illinois.

Source: chicagotribune.com, "Illinois Senate passes marijuana decriminalization bill but plans changes," Jessie Hellmann, May 22, 2015

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