Two enlightened bills involving marijuana cleared the General Assembly last week. Gov. Bruce Rauner would be wise to sign both.
One bill would reset the starting date for a pilot program allowing ill people to buy medical marijuana. A law permitting medical marijuana passed in 2013, but because of bureaucratic delays, not a single patient has been able to get legal pain-easing pot.
As the law now stands, the pilot program will end Jan. 1, 2018, just 2½ years from now. That’s not much time, given that the pilot program isn’t even up and running yet and no one is sure when it will be. The new bill would reset the deadline to about four years after the first dispensary opens.
Entrepreneurs have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars setting up medical marijuana operations, and they deserve a chance to earn their money back. If they are forced to try to recoup their investments too quickly, prices will soar, patients will turn to marijuana sold on the street and the program will fail. The entire point of a pilot project is to see what works. Two years won’t do it.
The second pot-related bill headed Rauner’s way essentially would decriminalize the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana — 15 grams or less — by establishing fines of $55 to $125 instead of jail time.
The bill simply codifies what already is happening all around the state. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez earlier this year said her office would stop prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. Back in 2012, Chicago allowed police to give people with 15 grams or less tickets instead of criminal sanctions.
The bill also would give motorists with small amounts of marijuana in their systems a pass. Now, any amount of marijuana can be grounds for a DUI. The bill would set the limit at 25 nanograms per milliliter in saliva and 15 grams of THC — marijuana’s psychoactive component — in blood. The change is based on federal standards and the fact that traces of marijuana remain in the body even after the effects of THC have worn off.
Opponents of the bill worry there is no treatment component for repeat offenders. But seriously. Do people caught with a couple of joints from time to time really need to be put in a treatment program?
The bill won’t go to Rauner until an additional measure is passed that would permit court clerks to expunge records of the fines. But he should sign it when he gets it. We are clogging up our court system with low-level marijuana offenders.