New legislation introduced by Representative Michael Zalewski aims to reduce overcrowding in Illinois prisons by decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession.
Speaking to the House Judiciary Committee, Democrat Zalewski also suggested lowering penalties for heroin and cocaine possession.
Why does Zalewski feel his bills would improve Illinois? Read the details about decriminalizing these drugs below.
Decriminalizing Drugs in Illinois
Why Decriminalize Drugs?
Zalewski feels that current legislation on drug possession burdens the system by requiring Illinois law enforcement to conduct drug testing on criminal charges that are eventually dismissed due to overcrowded dockets.
In addition, he asserts that decriminalizing possession would reduce prison overcrowding. With 49,000 inmates currently filling a prison system intended to hold 32,000, Illinois Republicans and Democrats alike agree that overcrowding is a major issue in the state. John Maki, director of nonpartisan prison watchdog group the John Howard Association, asserts that the Illinois system has run out of room and maxed out spending — but with the current number of inmates, even the $1.3 billion in spending isn’t enough.
How Would Drug Decriminalization Work?
The legislation proposes that low-level marijuana possession should be fined similar to traffic offenses. Although details of the legislation are still being worked out, a deputy chief in the Cook County State Attorney’s narcotics bureau suggests that first-time offenders caught with less than 30 grams of marijuana would face a $250 fine rather than up to a year in jail.
Heroin and cocaine users or dealers caught with up to 3 grams of those substances would spend up to three years in prison rather than four. And Zalewski has proposed other measures that would similarly reduce prison overcrowding, such as a bill requiring low-level drug defendants to be released from prison as they awaited trial.
Will Drug Decriminalization Become a Reality?
It remains to be seen whether decriminalization of drugs will come to pass in Illinois. With Zalewski’s legislation still in development, the General Assembly has not yet voted on the measures. As always, ARCpoint Labs of Elk Grove Village will stay abreast of all changes in drug-related legislation and report new developments to our readers!
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