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Move To Decriminalize Pot Possession Advances In Springfield

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Advocacy groups urged state lawmakers to finally pass a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Illinois.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports proposed legislation sponsored by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) would make possession of an ounce of marijuana a petty offense, punishable only by a fine of no more than $100.

The measure cleared the House Restorative Justice Committee last month, and is awaiting a vote by the full House.

Lawmakers Weigh Decriminalization Of Pot Possession

Rev. Alexander Sharp, acting executive director of the Community Renewal Society, said criminal penalties for marijuana possession – even simple misdemeanors – can have long-lasting impacts on someone's life.

"As legislation now works, you can't be employed. You can't gain the basic things that you need to subsist; food and housing. It's harder to get an education. All because you have a low-level marijuana arrest on your record."

Roosevelt University researcher Kathy Kane-Willis said prosecuting such low-level drug crimes is more expensive and time-consuming than it's worth.

"There have been a million arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession in the state of Illinois from 1975 to 2009. That's a lot of arrests. It's about 50,000 a year, and that turns out to be 150,000 hours of police time," she said.

She said, in Cook County, 80 percent of those cases do not lead to convictions, so decriminalization makes sense.

A recent survey by Public Policy Polling showed 63 percent of Illinois voters would support the legislation, and only 27 percent would oppose it. Nine percent were unsure.

Two other measures introduced in Springfield would reduce existing penalties for marijuana possession, but keep it a crime.

The state legalized medical use of marijuana last summer, under a four-year pilot program, but regulators have yet to establish requirements for opening grow centers and dispensaries in Illinois.

Meantime, on Wednesday, the Illinois Senate approved a measure to allow minors who suffer seizures, including from epilepsy, to use medical marijuana to treat their symptoms. The Senate voted 49-5 to approve the legislation, sending the measure to the House for debate.

Parents of children with epilepsy have said using marijuana oil reduces seizures, but does not get them high.

The current medical marijuana law allows only people who are 18 or older to use medical marijuana.

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