UPDATE: SB 1830 did not pass in the General Assembly during the scheduled session. We look forward to continuing to work on this legislation.
The so-called War on Drugs, using criminal prosecution as the default response to drug use, has failed. This approach has failed to reduce drug use or stem the tragic toll of overdose deaths. It has failed to reduce violence on our streets. It has failed to lift up individuals and communities.
Today Illinois’ drug laws are among the most punitive in the country. Illinois is one of only 18 states that classify simple possession of any amount of a prohibited substance—even residue on an empty container—as a felony.
From 2016 to 2018, 20,000 people in Illinois were convicted of felonies for simply possessing small amounts of drugs, and 7,500 were imprisoned. And while drug use is a reality in all communities, data shows that Illinois residents of color are far more likely to be arrested and convicted of drug possession. The result is that entire neighborhoods have been adversely impacted, with so many residents experiencing incarceration or the lifelong stigma of a felony record, limiting their opportunities for education, employment, and stable housing.
Furthermore, involvement with the criminal legal system makes people’s health outcomes worse: fatal overdoses and suicides are far higher among people released from jail than others. Jails and prisons are fundamentally ill-suited to provide quality care to those in their custody, and often provide no treatment at all: currently incarcerated people who need treatment for a substance use disorder receive it only 16% of the time.
SB 1830 reclassifies the penalty for possession of small amounts of drugs from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor, and offers behavioral health assessments and access to treatment for people who need it, rather than incarceration.
It’s time to unwind the War on Drugs and install a public health approach to reducing the harms associated with drug use. SB 1830 would reduce barriers to recovery for all Illinoisans.