Earlier today, Governor Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto of House Bill 218, sponsored by Representative Kelly Cassidy and Senator Michael Noland, a measure that would have created civil enforcement, rather than criminal enforcement, for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Governor decreased the amount of marijuana available for civil enforcement from 15 to 10 grams and increased the fine for possession of these small amounts. The bill was the product of lengthy negotiations among many parties, including the Marijuana Policy Project, the ACLU, the Illinois States Attorney Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, and Illinois Policy Institute, designed to be a first step toward reducing the unnecessarily high levels of incarceration in Illinois.

The following can be attributed to Ben Ruddell, criminal justice counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, in response to the Governor’s action:

Today’s action by the Governor makes us pessimistic about the possibility of reaching the Governor’s publicly stated goal of reducing incarceration in Illinois by 25%. How can we reach that goal if the Administration is not willing to take this small, first step and, instead, waters down this effort?

It is especially disheartening to see that the Governor not only reduced the amount of marijuana that would be subject to a civil fine, he increased the amount of the fine. We know that too often the residents of Illinois targeted for enforcement of marijuana laws are individuals who do not have the means to pay a now-doubled fine. Failure to pay such a fine can land a person in the criminal justice system – precisely the opposite of the goal of this legislation that was so carefully crafted by the legislature.

We hope that we can get back to working on issues that will really reduce the rate of incarceration in our state. This is not a good omen.