Believe it or Not, Marijuana Possession Can Still Be a Crime

It could be easy to believe these days that marijuana use or possession is pretty much not a big deal. Certainly as a legal matter, it seems like marijuana is legal just about everywhere. That remains a good way to land in jail.

It hardly seems that way. So far, 33 states and the District of Columbia have made it legal to use or possess marijuana in some way, including as medical marijuana. Ten states and the District of Columbia have passed the most generous laws that legalize the recreational use and possession of marijuana. Other states are considering laws decriminalizing use or possession of marijuana.

Nonetheless, even in states that have passed laws decriminalizing, legalizing, or permitting medical use of marijuana, there are laws that make it clear that marijuana is not free of legal penalties. In most states, these laws are federal laws involving trafficking. However, while current federal policy is to use a light touch when it comes to state medical marijuana or legalization laws, federal marijuana laws are in clear conflict with many states’ laws on small-scale possession or use of marijuana.

Federal Law Still Applies to Much Marijuana Use in States Where Marijuana Is “Legal”

Current federal policy is to go easy on marijuana enforcement in states that have legalized some or all use or possession of marijuana, but federal marijuana laws still apply and will be enforced, particularly at the higher end of the scale of possession charges. State law does not trump federal law, and violation of federal marijuana laws can yield major fines and prison time. For cases involving up to 50 kilograms of marijuana, the federal government continues to prosecute marijuana cases under federal laws, regardless of what state law says. Federal penalties still apply. In fact, for cases involving possession of up to 50 kilograms of marijuana, or up to 49 marijuana plants, violators can get fines of up to $250,000 and 5 years in prison for a first offense. A second offense can bring fines of up to $500,000 and up to 10 years in prison. Hardly makes marijuana feel legal.

Federal enforcement of marijuana laws follows a policy intended to thwart particular threats, including:

  • Marijuana distribution to minors.
  • Marijuana sales where the revenue will go to support criminal activities, including gangs and drug cartels.
  • Marijuana sales from states where the drug is legal that will be distributed to states where the drug is not legal.
  • Instances where marijuana production with the authorization of states that legalized marijuana will be used to provide camouflage for trafficking in other illegal drugs, such as cocaine or heroin.

No matter what state law says, it remains possible to fall afoul of federal statutes regulating use and possession of marijuana.

Illinois Law is Changing on Marijuana Use and Possession

Illinois has approved medical marijuana. It has decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. Even so, however—except for medical purposes—it is illegal in Illinois to grow, possess, or use marijuana in all forms, including:

  • Kief
  • Hashish
  • Hash oil
  • Marijuana seeds
  • Infusions or edibles, including brownies, teas, or other forms
  • Any resin extracts, including the extract of pure THC

Having marijuana in your possession, in your vehicle, or in your home is illegal in Illinois, although whether your violation is a criminal or civil offense depends upon how much marijuana is involved. In Illinois, possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana is a civil offense. Any amount above that is a criminal offense, as is delivery of or intent to deliver marijuana to another person. These offenses carry criminal fines and the potential for jail time. You don’t have to receive money in return for the marijuana for the transfer to be a crime.

Localities can levy harsher fines than the state. Local fines may also increase based on whether your possession of marijuana is your first offense, or how much marijuana you have in your possession.

Illinois has decriminalized possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana as “personal use” possession, subjecting you to fines but not jail time. Localities cannot make this offense criminal, but can add local fines to the penalty.

The Times Are Changing in Illinois

In March 2018, a pair of Illinois legislators introduced bills to legalize recreational marijuana. The bills failed in the Illinois House and Senate. What a difference a few months make. In November 2018, Illinois voters elected a pro-marijuana governor, Democrat J.B. Pritzker. Not long after, the powerful Illinois House Speaker announced he favors Pritzker’s proposal to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. The likely result will legalize marijuana in Illinois.

While that might change the future of marijuana law in Illinois, it doesn’t do a thing for anyone already facing marijuana charges in the state. For those people, proper legal representation remains key to avoiding conviction on drug charges that could have a major impact on their lives. With that prospect facing them, anyone charged with a marijuana offense in Illinois has to get proactive about finding an attorney who can truly represent their interest in court.

If You Face Marijuana-Related Charges in DuPage, Kane, or Cook County, Consult Our Criminal Defense Attorneys

After an arrest for marijuana offenses, you want the best defense you can get. That means you should call the criminal attorneys of Martin & Kent, L.L.C. We understand that marijuana laws in Illinois and in each different county can be confusing, and we regularly fight these charges. We bring to the job an inside knowledge of the system and provide you with a tough and aggressive defense. We are committed to delivering the best possible result possible in each individual case. For a consultation in DuPage, Kane, or Cook County, contact our office 24 hours a day at (630) 474-8000.



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