Illinois Marijuana Bill Could Dramatically Decrease Arrests Of Young Black Men

02/06/2015 01:19 pm ET | Updated Feb 06, 2015
Craig F. Walker via Getty Images

Adults in Illinois would be able to use small amounts recreational marijuana without fear of jail time under two bills introduced by the General Assembly. The bills are the first-ever legislation in the state aimed at rolling back marijuana-related penalties.

On Tuesday, lawmakers in both state houses introduced bills that would decriminalize and legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana for people over 21. Illinois currently has a strict pilot program for legal medical marijuana.

Senate Bill 753, sponsored by state Sen. Michael Noland (D-Elgin), would make it legal for anyone over 21 to possess more than 30 grams of marijuana, and it would [permit] the production and possession" of up to five marijuana plants.

"It's decriminalization on steroids," Ali Nagib, assistant director of the Illinois chapter of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told The Huffington Post. "You're completely removing the criminal penalties for low-level possession. But you still haven't changed anything for the higher possession amounts, the commercial market or taxation."

Even though small amounts would be legal if the law were passed, Illinois would not be reaping a tax revenue bonanza like Colorado, which netted $50 million in recreational pot taxes in just the first year of legalization.

In the lower chamber, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) filed a bill that would lower the criminal penalties of recreational marijuana possession of 30 grams or fewer to a $100 ticket and a petty offense.

Though neither bills address quantities of recreational marijuana that would affect a commercial industry, some say the senate bill in particular has the potential to help the long-running problem of black and Latino residents being criminalized for marijuana offenses at a disproportional rate to whites.

"It would solve the disparity and arrest issue," Kathleen Kane-Willis, director of the Chicago-based Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, told The Huffington Post. "Economic benefits would come from saving police money and court time."

Chicago Marijuana Arrests Per 1000 Residents, 2011-14
(The darker the color, the higher the concentration. Click for breakdown.)

African-American Share Of Chicago Population, 2013
(The darker the color, the higher the concentration. Click for breakdown.)

Maps courtesy of University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy Graduate Candidate Scarlett Swerdlow.

In Illinois, blacks were about 7.6 times more likely to be arrested for possession than whites, according to a 2014 report by the ICDP. That rate ranks Illinois third in the nation for the black-to-white racial disparity of marijuana possession offenders, "despite the fact that marijuana use is the same between these two groups," the report said.

In 2010, Illinois ranked fifth nationally in the number of arrests for marijuana possession, behind New York, Texas, Florida and California.

"To have such a radical disparity based on neighbored and racial composition of neighborhood is extremely disturbing to us at the consortium," said Kane-Willis, who also co-authored the report. "It doesn't advance the goals of public safety ... [Criminalizing recreational marijuana use] is also expensive: how do you want to spend our police time and resources? It's a zero sum game at least in term of time."

Both Nagib and Kane-Willis say they feel confident the two recent bills on recreational marijuana legalization and decriminalization won't be the last to come from the legislature this session.

"I think there's likely going to be one other bill, maybe more, introduced this session about tax and regulate," Nagib said. "It's the state of a somewhat prolonged conversation on what the right way forward is on this policy...but it's a good stake in the ground to say 'here's how we can re-introduce this plant.'"

Also on HuffPost:

  • Strains of Kaboom and Blue Mystic!
    Nothern Lights Natural Rx
  • The two strains (the latter of which is pictured here) are among those most popular at Northern Lights Natural Rx, says co-owner Eva Woolhiser. But when it comes to edibles, she said customers will go for "anything."
  • The Ominously-Named 'Death Star' Strain!
    Dank Colorado
  • Owner Justin Jones of Dank Colorado: "Our Death Star [strain] has been really popular."
  • And Blue Daddy and Mr. Pink Too!
    Sean Barbas
  • "Our in house strains like Blue Daddy and Mr. Pink (pictured here) have been really popular,” Mile High Medical Cannabis store manager Sean Barbas said. "It’s been nuts”
  • 'Euphoric' Cannabis Concentrate!
  • At The Health Center, owner Tiffany Goldman said a product called Shatter was the top choice among recreational customers before it sold out. Officially known as a cannabis concentrate, it's a form of hash and "according to most people it's more euphoric.
  • Blue Kudu Chocolate!
    Bluekudu.com
  • The edible has been especially popular at Kine Mine, but customers shouldn't get in over their heads. "We’ve been warning people about the potency," CEO and founder Theran Snyder said.
  • Pop Rocks Candy Bars!
    Incredibles
  • "Edibles have been flying off the shelves," Denver Kush owner Darin Smith said. "We’ve found particular success with the Incredibles Fireworks bar. It’s got chocolate mixed with pop rocks and the packaging is just great."
  • Weed Flowers!
    Tim Cullen
  • “Cannabis flowers have been flying out the door," Evergreen Apothecary co-owner Tim Cullen said. "People have been waiting two hours for just two minutes in the store and couldn’t be happier for it.”
  • Weed Sodas!
    AP
  • THC-infused sodas are displayed for sale in a cooler at The Clinic, a Denver-based marijuana dispensary with several outlets.
  • Something Called a TKO Bar, Whatever That Is!
    Hank Borunda
  • "The TKO bar is most popular amongst patients," The Greener Side Owner Hank Borunda wrote in an email to HuffPost.
  • Here's What A Weed Menu Looks LIke!
    AP
  • A recreational marijuana menu and price list sits on a counter at 3D Cannabis Center.
  • And Some Normal Bagged Weed!
    Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
  • Packages of marijuana labeled for recreational use are spread out on a counter at Northern Lights Cannabis Co in Edgewater, Colorado on January 1, 2014.
  • And Of Course, Just Plain, Old Weed Cigarettes!
    AP
  • Different strains of marijuana are displayed for sale at The Clinic in Denver.

More:

Marijuana

CONVERSATIONS