As of March 9, the Prairie State just moved one step closer to common sense policy regarding the strangely controversial cannabis plant. In a second, revised effort to decriminalize possession of personal amounts of cannabis, Bill 2228 just passed through the Illinois Senate Criminal Law Committee. Next stop: the Senate floor!
Bill 2228 is the second attempt at a bill to decriminalize cannabis, which was originally submitted last year. The first was vetoed by Captain Buzzkill, a.k.a. Gov. Bruce Rauner. Apparently, a 15-gram limit and a maximum $125 fine for possession reminded the governor too much of unbridled anarchy. So, lawmakers have been forced to try this one more time, and rightly so.
The new bill lowers the decriminalized amount to an absurd 10 grams and raises the maximum possible fine to $200. However, the real gem of Bill 2228, a proposal to expunge all cannabis citations from individuals’ records every six months, is still included. This is what it’s about: A minor drug-possession record keeps hard-working people out of schools and jobs, only making it harder for them to resist turning back to drugs and crime.
Courts are backed up with trivial cannabis possession cases that are usually dismissed anyway after making their way in front of a judge, a situation that forces the justice system to bleed tax dollars. Hopefully, new regulations like what Illinois is doing will pave the way for a whole new approach to the criminal justice aspect of cannabis.
(Of course, as long as cannabis remains primarily a criminal justice issue and not one of public health, we still have a very long way to go. It’s no longer even debatable that the herb is orders of magnitude safer than vices like tobacco, wine, and sugary soda, none of which is a criminal justice issue.)
Decriminalization is certainly better than criminalizing regular folks who like to relax with bud instead of Bud. But rational people are coming to realize that cannabis should never have been criminalized in the first place and that, like many other government programs, Prohibition 2.0 amounts to little more than a scheme for controlling millions of people and billions of dollars, using a toxic mix of fearmongering and pseudoscience.
So, cannabis “decriminalization” is only a baby step. It’s a step in the right direction, but make no mistake: A “decriminalized” substance is still illegal. There’s merely a token agreement that jail might be a bit excessive as punishment for mere possession. We’re talking about a plant—for some a medicine or a means of kicking opioid addiction; for others a safer alternative to alcohol. Until the herb’s ban under Schedule I is lifted, even researching more about it will be nearly impossible. Also, there will still be an unregulated black market happily handing out whatever they want to anyone with cash.
So, c’mon, Illinois! Get it right. It’s about time the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, joined in the fight to stop Jim Crow’s bastard son, the Drug War.
Hopefully, the Land of Lincoln will come to its senses soon, starting with Bill 2228. Maybe then the state’s fine citizens can toss some choice botanicals into a MagicalButter countertop infuser for a couple hours, make themselves some professional-quality herbal cooking oil, whomp up some fried green tomatoes and homemade French fries, and finally, put that world’s largest bottle of ketchup to good use.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in Arizona and raised in Maryland and Guinea, West Africa, Zach Brown claims the D.C. metro area as his home turf. He is currently back in Africa writing, teaching English as a second language, and making music in Bamako, Mali. Zach is an Eagle Scout who earned a B.A. in English from the University of Maryland. He was also president of the UMD chapters of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and SSDP (Students for Sensible Drug Policy).