Illinois lawmakers Friday approved a plan to legalize marijuana, Edie Moore has heard people talking about how they can use the drug legally -- not realizing that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has not yet signed the bill into law, and it won't take effect until Jan. 1, 2020.
As executive director of Chicago NORML, which fought for the law, Moore welcomed the change, but said, "It still won't be legal to sell or smoke on the street. We have to educate our community so they're not running into overzealous cops looking to bust people for breaking the law."
The police say they're not overzealous, but will in some cases continue to cite people for breaking the current law until the new law takes effect. Some county prosecutors, however, say they rarely pursue criminal charges for low-level cases.
"We're not changing anything until Jan. 1," said Westchester police Chief Steven Stelter, president of the Illinois Chiefs of Police Association. "The (current) law is still the law.
"I feel sorry for society," he added. "People were misled. There will be increased traffic fatalities from people being high on marijuana. There's going to be serious issues with an increase in the black market."
The bill calls for the state to allow commercial sales of marijuana by licensed growers and retail stores, permitting an individual to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, and pardoning and wiping public records clean of relatively minor marijuana convictions.
The governor would pardon all misdemeanor offenses involving less than 30 grams, while convicts or prosecutors could petition in court to pardon and expunge records of convictions of up to 500 grams, which includes Class 4 felonies.
If a person's minor marijuana arrest is still pending in court once the law takes effect, a person may petition to dismiss the charges and expunge all records of it. A person imprisoned solely for minor cannabis offenses shall be released if a court orders it.
In 2016, the state decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana, making it punishable instead by a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket.
This year, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx announced that her office would no longer prosecute low-level marijuana offenses, and would divert Class 4 marijuana felonies to treatment rather than imprisonment. Now she is planning to help convicts expunge all misdemeanor cases. Some legal aid groups, such as Illinois Legal Aid Online, also provide help for people seeking to seal or expunge their records.
DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said his office will leave it up to individuals to apply for expungement next year, and will review each case to consider whether to object, depending on the seriousness of the offense and the person's background.
Until then, he said, his office probably will not prosecute many misdemeanor possession cases. "I don't think it's a wise use of our resources," he said, "where we know the offenses won't exist come Jan. 1."
For the most part, McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally said, prosecutors already charge very few low-level marijuana offenses. Most are handled with fines.
In 2016, 42% of drug arrests statewide were for marijuana, according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Yet very few Illinois convicts are imprisoned solely for cannabis, Kenneally said. The Illinois Department of Corrections reported Monday that 36 people were in prison for Class 4 marijuana felonies.
"If the laws are still on the books, we'll enforce them," Kenneally said. "If somebody didn't buy from a (licensed) dispensary, or they don't have a medical marijuana card, they're still in violation of the law. But our focus has always been on dealers, especially dealers in large volumes, and that will continue to be our focus."
In Joliet, as an example, police issue compliance tickets for anyone possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana. The ticket, considered a city ordinance violation and not a criminal offense, carries a $150 fine, said Sgt. Chris Botzum, public information officer for the Joliet Police Department.
Like others, Botzum said the new legislation needs to be reviewed to determine next steps.
"It's something we're going to be going back and forth on from now until January to make sure we're all on the same page and to make sure we're doing everything correctly," he said.
Law enforcement officials and marijuana advocates alike said they were still going through the 600-plus page law and will hold educational sessions to help implement the law, and will lobby for any necessary changes in a follow-up "trailer" bill to clear up potential inconsistencies and contradictions.
Alicia Fabbre is a freelance reporter.
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