If there ever was a state to make the Midwest a more livable place, it'd be Illinois. Everything the region is famous for, corn, Chicago, Abraham Lincoln, more corn, and the Mississippi, are all in the Prairie State. What's even better is that Illinois is leading the Midwest's charge towards marijuana legalization. Who said you had to be an elitist, coastal state to like weed? The reality is, you don't have to be one and Illinois is attempting to be a shining example of how the rest of America is just as suited for marijuana legalization as the coastal states are.
Medical Marijuana in Illinois
Illinois' path towards weed legalization is a pretty new one. In 2013, Illinois passed its first law allowing the use of marijuana for medical purpose. That bill went into effect just over three years ago on January 1, 2014. The only catch is that the state only allows state licensed dispensaries to sell medical marijuana. Even though the bill passed over three years ago, the state has yet to open any state licensed dispensaries, making their medical marijuana bill essentially useless. Home growing is strictly illegal so patients with medical marijuana cards have nowhere in the state where they can legally purchase their medication.
Decriminalized Cannabis in Illinois
Even though they haven't set up their dispensaries yet, the state went a step further just last year when Governor Bruce Rauner signed legislation to decriminalize the possession of 10 grams or less. This means that if you're a first-time offender with 10 grams or less, all you'll have is a fine of $200 or less: no jail time and no criminal record. This is a huge milestone for the state and made Illinois one of only 21 states to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession. The new bill also includes stipulations regarding stoned diving. Drivers found with five or more nanograms of THC in their blood or ten or more nanograms of THC in their saliva will be deemed as a driving under the influence.
Carry Under 10 Grams!
It's not all perfect, though. Marijuana is still largely illegal in the state and you can still face jail time if you're caught doing what you shouldn't be. Anything over 10 grams and you can get a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail. Make it a second offense and you turn into a felon that could face 1-6 years in jail and up to $25,000 in fines. Cultivating, trafficking, and owning paraphernalia are all illegal as well and include long jail sentences with hefty fines.
Illinois Crime and Cannabis
Chicago, obviously, has been at the center of Illinois' weed debate as the city is an infamous hub for crime and drug trafficking. In 2012, Chicago increased the decriminalization amount to 15 grams but the city is still seeing a great deal of problems regarding law enforcement. Possession arrests decreased by 21 percent since the decriminalization laws were enacted but the city still has one of the nation's highest racial disparities in weed arrests according to a 2014 study done by Roosevelt University. In fact, many Chicago police officers have continued to arrest Chicagoans for possession even if they have under 15 grams. This is particularly true in the South and West sides where weed arrests have actually increased since decriminalization. Much like in the other states that have decriminalized possession, whether or not you're going to be arrested depends on what color skin you have.
Clearly, Illinois has a long way to go. They're one of the only states in the Midwest that seem to want to move in the right direction but, unfortunately, they having trouble actually getting there. Opening state licensed dispensaries and ensuring equal protection in the eyes of the law are absolutely necessary for Illinois to address before they can move any further. Until they address these issues, though, Illinois will remain a state with big dreams without the will to execute them.