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Illinois Bill Setting Legal Marijuana Limit Awaits Governor’s Signature

A bill setting 15 nanograms as the THC threshold for DUI-marijuana is awaiting the governor’s signature. Governor Rauner has 60 days to decide whether to sign it or veto it.

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Under the current law, a driver caught with any amount of marijuana in his system is considered legally impaired. Opponents believe the current law is unfair because THC stays in a person’s system for weeks without causing impairment, a fact even the federal government acknowledges. The proposed bill sets a legal amount of THC in the system to account for the drug’s lingering effects and allows police to conduct roadside saliva tests to determine whether the driver is over the 15-nanogram limit.

The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists believes the threshold is dangerous and is urging the governor to veto the bill. Critics are concerned because the limit is much higher than those in other states, which set the threshold between two and seven nanograms.

State Senator Mike Noland, the bill’s chief sponsor, retorts that the extent to which drivers are impaired by alcohol at .08 BAC, the legal blood-alcohol level, is comparable to 15 nanograms of THC. The number is also consistent with federal standards. Noland has further stressed that lawmakers can always decide to lower the limit in the future.

The 15-nanogram limit was chosen by lawmakers and the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Association as a compromise between Colorado’s five-nanogram threshold and Washington’s 25-nanogram limit, two states in which marijuana is legal for recreational use.

The proposed bill also accomplishes other goals. While Illinois passed a law legalizing medical marijuana through a pilot program in 2013, bureaucratic delays have prevented patients from getting cannabis. Not a single medical dispensary has opened in Illinois. The new bill will reset the pilot program deadline to about four years after the first dispensary opens.

Moreover, the new bill will essentially decriminalize the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana, setting fines of $55 to $125 instead of jail time for any amount under 15 grams. Possession of up to 500 grams would constitute a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

In a sense, the bill merely codifies what is already happening in Illinois. Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that her office would stop prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. And in 2012, Chicago allowed police to give people with 15 grams or fewer citations instead of criminal charges.

The bill’s critics contend that the bill requires no treatment component for repeat offenders. And Ed Wojcicki, the executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, has spoken against decriminalization. He believes it will lead to more people committing crimes or inadvertently injuring themselves while high. He also thinks it will be difficult for police to reliably identify drivers under the influence of marijuana.

A 2013 Pew public opinion poll shows that a small majority of voters nationwide support marijuana legalization. Illinois, however, doesn’t seem eager to do so. Senator Noland says he has no interest in pursuing legalization at this time. And Senator Lou Lang, who sponsored the medical marijuana bill, has stated that his only purpose was to help sick people.

A spokesman for Governor Rauner has said the governor is still considering whether to sign the bill. The governor, however, has previously called for reducing the Illinois prison population by 25 percent within 10 years. The proposed bill would undoubtedly help achieve this end.

If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation for those in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses. To learn more and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us toll-free at 1-800-829-8513.

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Dirty DUI Stings Constitutional, Says Federal Court, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, May 11, 2015.

Officer’s Reasonable Mistake of Law Does Not Render Traffic Stop Unconstitutional, Says New York Court, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, May 4, 2015.

Georgia Supreme Court Weakens Implied Consent Law, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, April 10, 2015.

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