August 14, 2015
To the Honorable Members of
The Illinois House of Representatives,
99th General Assembly:
Today I return
House Bill 218 with specific recommendations for change.
have taken significant steps to reforming our criminal justice system. In
February, I established the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and
Sentencing Reform to recommend amendments to State law to reduce the State’s
current prison population by 25% by 2025. The General Assembly passed
legislation this session to shorten the length of juvenile aftercare (parole),
eliminate mandatory life sentences for juveniles, protect victims of
prostitution and trafficking, and shorten the waiting time for expungements,
among other legislation. Our work is not done, but I thank the members of the
General Assembly for being partners in this effort.
possession of non-medical cannabis is and will remain illegal under Illinois
law, criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis are too
severe. Under current law, possession of up to 2.5 grams is a Class C
misdemeanor, punishable by incarceration of up to 30 days; possession of up to
10 grams is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by incarceration of up to 180
days; and possession of up to 30 grams is a Class A misdemeanor or Class 4
felony, depending on prior convictions, punishable by incarceration of up to
one year. Even if jail time is avoided, a person convicted of possession is
saddled with a criminal record that impedes future employment opportunities and
The criminal prosecution
of cannabis possession is also a drain on public resources. By classifying
possession as a misdemeanor or felony, rather than as a civil law violation, our
police, prosecutors, public defenders, and corrections officers spend significant
time and tax-dollars to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate offenders. In 2014
alone, police made 15,427 arrests for possession of up to 2.5 grams of cannabis;
11,920 arrests for possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis; and 5,496 arrests
for possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis. The time and expense to arrest,
prosecute, and in some cases incarcerate almost 33,000 persons per year for minor
possession is a diversion of critical public resources that are needed elsewhere.
218 would reclassify the possession of small quantities of cannabis as a civil
law violation, rather than a misdemeanor. Possession would still be illegal and
subject to a fine, but not a criminal offense. Consequently, the taxpayers
would be spared the time and expense of arresting, prosecuting, and potentially
incarcerating offenders, and the offender would avoid a criminal record. Possession
of larger quantities of cannabis would continue to be a misdemeanor or felony,
depending on the quantity.
I support the
fundamental purposes of this bill. I thank the sponsors for their diligent and
thoughtful work and the many Illinoisans and organizations who contributed to
this legislation, while acknowledging that many still have questions and
concerns about its impact.
that this legislation is a significant change in how our State handles illegal
drug possession, any change must be made carefully and incrementally. I have
particular concern about three metrics, each of which is addressed below, so am
returning this bill with specific recommendations for change.
delineates violations for possession of small amounts of cannabis as follows:
up to 2.5 grams (Class C misdemeanor); up to 10 grams (Class B misdemeanor);
and up to 30 grams (Class A misdemeanor or Class 4 felony).
218 creates a new delineation at 15 grams. The bill would reclassify the first
two classes of violation (possession of up to 10 grams) as a civil law
violation, which I support for the reasons explained above. But the bill goes
farther, by also classifying possession of up to 15 grams as a civil violation,
while providing that possession of 15 to 30 grams would be a Class B
misdemeanor. In other words, the bill would create a delineation at 15 grams,
which does not exist under current law.
that the delineation remain at 10 grams, rather than be moved to 15 grams. Many
local ordinances, from Cook County to Carbondale, already use 10 grams as the
delineation between civil law violation and misdemeanor, having taken their cue
from State law. In addition, the State reports arrest and incarceration data based
on current statutory delineations, meaning that future comparisons to study the
effect of House Bill 218 if it becomes law will be easier without changing the
delineation at 10 grams will still accomplish the bill’s fundamental purposes.
As noted above, 83% of the arrests in 2014 for possession of up to 30 grams
were for possession of less than 10 grams. Therefore, providing a civil law
violation for possession of up to 10 grams will still dramatically reduce the
number of arrests.
for Civil Law Violation
law, a person convicted of possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis is subject
to a fine of up $1,500, in addition to potential incarceration. House Bill 218
would reduce the fine to a minimum of $55 and a maximum of $125.
reducing the fine from $1,500 is reasonable, $55 to $125 is too low. I
recommend that the fine be a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $200. That range
would be more in line with fines under local ordinances, including Cook County
($200), Chicago ($250 to $500), Carbondale ($250 to $750), Evanston ($50 to $500),
and Urbana ($300). That range would also be in line with California and New
York, both of which impose minimum fines of $100.
House Bill 218 directs that $55 of the fine be distributed to certain sources,
including the circuit clerk, law enforcement agency, the county for drug
addiction services, the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor, and the State’s
Attorney. The remaining proceeds are then to be turned over to the law
enforcement agency that issued the ticket; but because the minimum fine is $55,
there may be no remainder to distribute. Imposing a minimum fine of $100 would
ensure additional proceeds are available to local law enforcement agencies to
ensure their costs are adequately covered.
fine of $100 to $200 will still accomplish the bill’s fundamental purposes.
That range of fine is still a significant reduction from the current $1,500
Under the Influence of Cannabis
House Bill 218
also establishes a standard for driving under the influence of cannabis. Under
current law, a driver is presumed to be under the influence of cannabis if
there is any trace of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) detected in his or her blood,
even if the usage occurred days or weeks earlier and the driver is no longer
impaired. House Bill 218 would raise this limit from zero to 15 nanograms of
THC per milliliter of blood (ng/mL). A driver would also continue to be guilty
of driving under the influence if he or she exhibited other signs of
impairment, regardless of the amount of THC detected.
appreciate the need to update the limit above zero, the limit proposed in House
Bill 218 is too high. The sponsors’ intent was to establish a limit that would
not jeopardize the safety of the driver or the public, would realistically
reflect whether a driver was impaired, and would not exceed the equivalent
limit for alcohol impairment. In light of this intent and the limitations on
scientific research available to us, I believe that 5 ng/mL is the appropriate
limit at this time.
sponsors of House Bill 218 acknowledged during the course of negotiation and
debate, the science is limited and evolving. Both proponents and opponents have
cited the work of European researchers on the causes and effects of
cannabis-impaired driving. Dr. Jan Ramaekers opined that 5 ng/mL would cause
approximately the same degree of impairment as our 0.08% standard for blood
alcohol concentration. For that reason, both Colorado and Washington, where
recreational cannabis was legalized, set the limit at 5 ng/mL, while Nevada set
the limit at 2 ng/mL.
We need more
research and more time to understand the effects of cannabis on driving.
Equating impairment caused by cannabis to impairment caused by alcohol is
neither so simple nor, given that cannabis remains illegal and the effects of
cannabis are different than the effects of alcohol, appropriate. Until then, I
cannot support a 15 ng/mL limit, which would be three times the limit in
any other state.
limit at 5 ng/mL of whole blood will still accomplish the bill’s fundamental
purposes. That limit is a significant increase over the current zero-tolerance
of House Bill 3215
Assembly also passed House Bill 3215, which makes certain technical and other
changes to House Bill 218 “[i]f and only if House Bill 218 of the 99th
General Assembly becomes law in the form in which it passed the House on April
of House Bill 3215 was an integral part of the passage of House Bill 218.
Unfortunately, because of the references in House Bill 3215 to “the form in
which [House Bill 218] passed the House on April 23, 2015, House Bill 3215 will
not take effect if the changes recommended here are accepted. Therefore, to
ensure that the entire legislation – including both House Bill 3215 and House
Bill 218 – becomes law, I also recommend that the changes included in House
Bill 3215 be incorporated into House Bill 218.
I again thank
the sponsors for their diligent and thoughtful work on House Bill 218. 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.
pursuant to Section 9(e) of Article IV of the Illinois Constitution of 1970, I
hereby return House Bill 218, entitled “AN ACT concerning transportation”, with
the following specific recommendations for change:
page 111, line 11, by replacing “15” with “5”; and
page 111, line 13, by replacing “25” with “10”; and
page 114, line 14, by replacing “15” with “5”; and
page 114, line 14, by replacing “25” with “10”; and
page 114, line 19, by replacing “15” with “5”; and
page 114, line 20, by replacing “25” with “10”; and
page 181, line 14, by replacing “15” with “10”; and
page 181, line 16, by replacing “$55” with “$100”; and
page 181, line 17, by replacing “$125” with “$200”; and
page 182, line 24, by replacing “15” with “10”; and
page 185, line 20, by replacing “$55” with “$100”; and
page 185, line 20, by replacing “$125” with “$200”; and
purpose of incorporating the changes included in House Bill 3215:
page 6, by replacing line 22 with “the circuit court shall expunge, upon
order of the court, or in the absence of a court order on or before”; and
page 138, by replacing lines 1 through 5 with “(5.3) (blank);”; and
page 138, by replacing lines 6 through 10 with “(5.5) (blank); or”; and
page 138, by replacing line 14 with “consumption of cannabis listed in the
Cannabis Control Act,”; and
page 181, by replacing lines 18 through 21 with “clerk of the circuit court.
Within 30 days after the deposit of the fine, the clerk shall distribute the”;
page 185, by replacing lines 21 through 24 with “be payable to the clerk of the circuit court. Within 30 days after the
deposit of the fine, the clerk shall distribute the”.
changes, House Bill 218 will have my approval. I respectfully request your concurrence.