Attention Stoners: forget 420, the New Magic Number in Illinois is 10

Just over a year ago, possession of any amount of marijuana could send you to jail. Today cannabis enthusiasts can inhale a little easier. On July 29, 2016, Governor Bruce Browner signed Senate Bill 2228. Among other things, with a stroke of pen Gov. Browner made possession of 10 g or less of marijuana a civil offense punishable by fine only between 100 and $200. In English: if you are stopped by the police and they find 10 g or less of marijuana they cannot arrest you. They can only give you a fine. Take a moment to let that sink in. Never before has Illinois law been so liberal in possession of marijuana. Prior to this change, possession of 10 g or less of marijuana was a class C misdemeanor. Putting icing on the cake, any paraphernalia found with 10 g or less of marijuana is included in the civil offense.

Not only does this new law take off the cuffs from possessing 10 g or less of marijuana, it also creates an entirely new and automatic expungement mechanism. Simply put, every 180 days the circuit clerk will automatically expunge anyone who violated the civil offense. Right now, it doesn’t appear you need to do anything to obtain this benefit, however, the statute does reference law enforcement providing rules in relation to this new type of expungement. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced attorney in this situation to determine whether or not such rules apply.

Keep in mind that this change only applies to possession of marijuana and paraphernalia. The sale or delivery of any amount of marijuana remains a criminal offense in Illinois. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this new change is its potential impact on other criminal laws. It certainly could test the well-established rule that the smell of marijuana itself is such a strong indicator of probable cause when only a civil offense could be afoot. Will officers switch to charging people they catch smoking pot on the street with disorderly conduct or public intoxication to get around the change in the law? Will we see marijuana being used less as an excuse to actually investigate other crimes? Whatever may happen, this is a turning point. For the first time ever, Illinois law recognizes that there is no need to put someone in jail, even for a day, who possesses a small amount of marijuana.

The next time you out the door, make sure you have your phone, your wallet and that you’re keeping it 10 and under. It could be the only reason you get to come back home at all.