Governor seeks changes to pot bill

Says decriminalization effort needs bit of work

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner wants House Bill 218 rolled a little differently before he’ll sign it into law.

The Winnetka Republican used his veto pen Friday to seek changes to the bill, which currently would put possession of small amounts of marijuana on par with a traffic offense.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago, would not make marijuana legal, but it would make possession of 15 grams (about a half-ounce) or less a civil-law offense punishable by a maximum fine of $125.

Cassidy said her bill was an effort to:

  • Bring uniformity to a patchwork of more than 100 local government ordinances that vary regarding amount of the drug and size of the fine.
  • Comport with the governor’s calls for sentencing reform and decreased prison crowding.
  • Reduce the inordinate impact of low-level possession charges on minority and inner city young people.

The governor wrote the bill has merit, but he sought certain changes, including:

  • Moving downward the maximum amount of the drug allowed from 15 grams to 10 grams.
  • Increasing the fines from a range of $55 to $125 to, instead, $100 to $200.

Cassidy’s bill also set a new standard for determining the level of the amount of the drug in a person’s system. Currently, any level of THC (marijuana’s intoxicating chemical) can trigger an arrest.

House Bill 218 bill sought a measure of 15 nanograms per milliliter of whole blood before impairment is presumed.

Rauner wrote that he found the 15 nanogram measure too permissible, and he seeks to change the level to 5 nanograms per milliliter.

Rauner said his changes wouldn’t trash Cassidy’s bill:

“The changes recommended here still work towards the fundamental purposes of the bill: that possession of small amounts of cannabis be a civil law violation rather than a misdemeanor; that the fine for possession of small amounts of cannabis be reduced significantly; and that the limit for driving under the influence of cannabis be increased from zero.”

Cassidy said she was somewhat disappointed and frustrated by the amendatory veto.

“There’s a lot of time and effort on the part of a huge bipartisan and incredibly inclusive coalition that went into crafting this bill,” she said.

She said she wanted to consult with the people who worked with her on the legislation before deciding her next step.

Lawmakers essentially have three options when dealing with an amendatory veto:

  • They can vote to concur with the changes and make the bill, as amended by the governor, law.
  • They can try to override the veto and make the bill law as it is, without the governor’s changes. That would take the support of 71 members in the House and 36 in the Senate.
  • They could do nothing and let the bill die.

The House is next scheduled to return to Springfield on Aug. 25.

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