Illinois police prepare for big changes in penalties for marijua - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Illinois police prepare for big changes in penalties for marijuana possession

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WSIL --  Police departments throughout Illinois are preparing for a big change in how they handle people caught with small amounts of marijuana.

Governor Bruce Rauner is close to signing a proposed law that would allow police to hand out fines instead of making arrests for minor cases of marijuana possession. A spokesperson for Governor Rauner's office says he is currently reviewing the bill with Illinois State Police to ensure the law can be implemented smoothly.

Democratic State Senator Heather Steans, who helped draft the law, has been told the governor will sign.

Police officers in our area have been closely following progress on this law. They say it would free up more resources at local departments, but will pose some, likely expensive, logistical challenges.

"We come across personal possession of marijuana constantly. It's something we see almost everyday," said Energy Police Detective Robert Terry.

Terry calls this a burden for any small police department with limited resources and a strain on local courts. The proposed law would make possession of 10 grams or fewer of marijuana punishable by a $100 to $200 fine instead of jail time.

Terry said backing off on marijuana would give police more time to focus on more serious drugs like meth. Many in southern Illinois share that perspective.

"They've got better things to do," said Steve Simpson, a Marion resident.

Under this proposed law, those caught with under 10 grams of marijuana would have their records expunged after six months. Terry said this will give many a second chance at life, but his department would have to invest in new technology for record keeping.

"There will have to be a new system created that will have to work in parallel with our existing system," Terry said.

This law would make Illinois one of 17 states to treat possession of small amounts of marijuana as a civil offense rather than criminal. Some consider political support for this bill a sign of changing attitudes towards the drug.

"I do believe it is, because it's helping a lot of diseases," said Harvey Tarver, a Cairo resident.

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