Medical marijuana will be legal in Illinois come next year

Medical marijuana will be legal in Illinois come next year

Beginning January 1, 2014, Illinois will join the ranks of several other states that have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The legislation that made it possible - otherwise known as the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act - is merely the latest example of the growing shift in public sentiment regarding the decriminalization of marijuana possession and use in certain situations.

Specifically, the new Illinois law establishes a four-year trial period in which doctors can prescribe medical marijuana for individuals with certain debilitating conditions, such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis. And, while the new legislation only applies to the medical use of marijuana - not recreational use - it does permit qualifying individuals to receive up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. Additionally, the law allows for the creation of 22 marijuana cultivating locations and 60 dispensing centers within Illinois.

Illinois marijuana possession laws

It cannot be stressed enough that the new medical marijuana law will not provide any protections to those who possess marijuana without a doctor's prescription. In fact, recreational marijuana users will continue to face harsh criminal penalties for marijuana possession in Illinois.

For instance:

  • Possession of 2.5 grams or less of marijuana is a Class C misdemeanor.
  • Possession of more than 2.5 grams of marijuana, but 10 grams or less is a Class B misdemeanor.
  • Possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana, but 30 grams or less is a Class A misdemeanor, unless it is a subsequent offense, in which case it is a Class 4 felony.
  • Possession of more than 30 grams of marijuana, but 500 grams or less is a Class 4 felony, unless it is a subsequent offense, in which case it is a Class 3 felony.
  • Possession of more than 500 grams of marijuana, but 2,000 grams or less is a Class 3 felony.
  • Possession of more than 2,000 grams of marijuana, but 5,000 grams or less is a Class 2 felony, with possession of over 5,000 grams being a Class 1 felony.

Importantly, even if Illinois lawmakers were to ultimately decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana under state law - an option that two states have already elected - it would not necessarily make marijuana possession legal under federal law, which still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug. Consequently, this means that individuals could still face punishment under federal law even if Illinois makes marijuana legal - although federal officials have so far shunned away from prosecuting federal marijuana possession charges in other jurisdictions so long at the individual is complying with state marijuana laws.

Giving public opinion, it may only be a matter of time until lawmakers consider the decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that for the first time an unmistakable majority of Americans - 58 percent - favor legalizing marijuana, which is an increase of 10 percentage points in the last year alone.

However, given that marijuana possession is still clearly illegal in Illinois, it is often best to seek the counsel of a drug possession defense attorney if you have been charged with a drug crime in Illinois. A skilled attorney can assist in reviewing the facts of your arrest and help navigate complex federal and state drug laws.

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