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Bill To Decriminalize Marijuana Passed By Illinois Lawmakers

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A bill that would decriminalize possession of a limited amount of marijuana is now in the hands of Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The state Senate approved a bill 37-19 Thursday to remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 15 grams marijuana.

The measure, which was approved by the House of Representatives in April, will now be sent to Rauner.

While Rauner this year issued the first licenses for medical marijuana distributors, the fate of the decriminalization bill is uncertain.

HB 218, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Michael Noland (D-Elgin) and in the House by Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), makes possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana a civil law violation punishable by a $125 fine.

Individuals will no longer face time in jail, and the civil offense will be automatically expunged in order to prevent a permanent criminal record. First-time possession between 30 and 100 grams would be misdemeanors. Currently, possession of 10 grams or more is a felony.

"Serious criminal penalties should be reserved for individuals who commit serious crimes," Rep. Cassidy said in a statement.

Chicago has already loosened the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana, making it subject to a fine, rather than a criminal charge.

Under current Illinois law, possession of up to 2.5 grams of marijuana is a class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,500; possession of 2.5-10 grams is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,500; and possession of 10-30 grams is a class 4 felony punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $1,500 fine.

"We hope Gov. Rauner will sign this important and broadly supported legislation," said Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. " It's time to stop destroying people's lives over possession of a substance that is undeniably less harmful than alcohol."

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