There is a growing undercurrent in Illinois law that possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use is not a major crime. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that marijuana arrests serve no useful purpose and simply soak up law enforcement resources. The other side of this equation is that the fines that courts collect from marijuana arrests, and the probation cases these arrests engender, help keep many criminal justice systems financially afloat.
However, everyone can agree that marijuana trafficking is bad for society and should be illegal. Law enforcement officials argue that the profits from such endeavors often go to fund other illicit enterprises for small and large crime organizations worldwide, such as sex trafficking and illegal arms sales. Furthermore, marijuana “dealers” still have a social stigma that marijuana “users” have largely shed, as long as they smoke their joints in private.
With all the recent changes in this area, it is easy to lose track of what is legal and what is illegal. It is also difficult to draw the line between simple possession and drug trafficking.
Marijuana Laws in Illinois
In 1907, California became the first state to label marijuana as a “poison.” Many other states soon followed suit, and the federal government eventually criminalized marijuana as well. These laws created what scientists call inertia. In plain English, inertia means that things tend to stay the same unless there is a radical new development. We may be witnessing such radical change in Chicago and the throughout the United States right at this time.
For the foreseeable future, marijuana laws will probably not undergo further radical change in Illinois. 720 ILCS 550/4 essentially breaks down punishment for possession according to the amount of marijuana.
- Civil Violation: If a person has less than 10 grams of marijuana (there are about three joints in a gram), the maximum punishment is a $200 fine. There may be some other punishments as well, such as an awareness class or perhaps community service. But there is no possible jail time or probation.
- Misdemeanor: Possession of between 10 and 30 grams is a Class B misdemeanor (up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine). Said possession must also be a first offense. Possession between 30-100 grams is a Class A misdemeanor (up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
- Felony: After that point, punishments escalate quickly. Subsequent violation of the 30-100 gram law is a felony, as is first-time possession of more than 100 grams. Depending on the amount, violators could face between one and 15 years in prison along with a $25,000 fine.
Illinois cultivation laws work much the same way. Five plants or fewer is a misdemeanor; more than five plants is a felony. Delivery and trafficking statutes treat the offender far more harshly. Less than 10 grams is a misdemeanor; more than 10 grams is a felony. Persons convicted of trafficking can face a minimum sentence of 12 to 30 years in the Illinois State Penetentiary and a $200,000 or more fine. All these possession and trafficking laws may trigger Illinois’ rather strict civil forfeiture measures that allow law enforcement to seize and sell boats, plane, automobiles, and even homes.
How do Prosecutors Distinguish Between Trafficking and Possession?
The amount of contraband is one distinction. The more pot the person has, the more likely it is that the person planned to sell some or all of it.
Sometimes, prosecutors also look at any ancillary items that the police seize in Chicago or elsewhere. Such items include:
- Scales, and
It is not always easy for prosecutors to connect ancillary items with the drugs they seize, especially if they are located in two different areas of a dwelling and multiple people live there. Furthermore, if the defendant also had drug paraphernalia, such a seizure indicates personal use as opposed to drug trafficking use.
In addition to the penalties listed above, enhancements apply if the defendant was caught near a school or while attempting to cross state lines.
Contact Aggressive Attorneys
If you have been charged with any marijuana crime, you need assertive representation. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.
(image courtesy of Shane Rounce)