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Bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana goes to governor

The Governor of Illinois is now considering a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession in the state for up to 15 grams, and end the state's zero tolerance rule for driver testing positive for THC in the blood. The bill, with the support of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, would set the highest level for THC in the blood of any state.

Some groups are concerned that that level is too high, but others claims the science support that level as indicative of impairment. Other states have used "actual impairment," but that standard can be challenging for law enforcement, as it means an officer must witness and be able to testify that they saw impaired behavior on behalf of a driver.

The current zero tolerance level is easier to enforce, but is a problem for anyone using medical marijuana, as they are likely to test positive for THC virtually all of the time. An added complexity with marijuana enforcement is that THC does not function like alcohol.

Unlike alcohol, which is quickly metabolized by the body and eliminated from the blood after a few hours, THC can show up on blood tests long after a someone has smoked the substance, and when they are unimpaired.

This means that a recreational user who smoked over the weekend could test positive in the middle of the week, long after they would have no signs of impairment. Some advocates for marijuana legalization argue that blood tests are a poor method of determining impairment.

Because THC affects individuals differently, the measurement of nanograms per milliliter in the blood may not be accurate. In states that have legalized the drug, there is not enough evidence to determine if legalization has resulted in increased numbers of impaired driving arrests.

The new Illinois law would help remove the "scarlet letter" of a drug arrest from minor infractions. Should unforeseen problems actually develop, the legislature always can amend the law when there is evidence to support such a change.

Source: pjstar.com, "Bill eliminating jail time for possession of up to 15 grams of cannabis now in hands of Gov. Rauner," Matt Buedel of the Journal Star; Dean Olsen and Georgette Braun of GateHouse Media Illinois, June 27, 2015

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