UPDATE 11/14/19: HB 2291 did not pass in the General Assembly before its adjournment. We look forward to continuing to work on this legislation.
Currently, small scale drug possession results in felony prosecution and is an ineffective deterrent of drug use. Despite decades of using the criminal justice system as a “stick” against drug use, both the supply of and demand for drugs remain high all across Illinois and nationwide. Yet felony prosecutions have worked to inhibit people from becoming productive citizens. The collateral consequences of a felony conviction create significant barriers to an individual and their family’s well-being while disproportionately impacting communities of color. Criminal records inhibit pathways to productive citizenship, safe housing, meaningful education and gainful employment. These obstacles frequently exacerbate the circumstances that triggered the person’s initial drug use, and contribute to the likelihood that they will return to the criminal justice system.
HB 2991 would reclassify small scale drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. It makes sense to right-size the penalties for possession of small-scale amounts of drugs, while both keeping possession of drugs illegal and maintaining the current sanctions for the manufacture, sale or distribution of drugs. Drug dealers can still be held accountable while small-scale possession is defelonized. The consequences for a misdemeanor conviction could include jail time and up to 2 years of probation, or drug treatment and behavioral therapy.
Illinois’ War on Drugs has failed. It’s time for a public health approach to drugs starting with defelonizing small-scale possession as one of the first steps.