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Sign bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana

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It’s hard to see why Gov. Bruce Rauner wouldn’t like a bill the Legislature is sending him that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The bill has been rewritten to accommodate objections he raised last year to an earlier version he thought wasn’t still enough. Changes made at his behest include tougher penalties and lowering the amount of marijuana someone can have without criminal charges kicking in. It’s time for him to sign the bill.

Originally, lawmakers wanted to stop making possession of up to 15 grams of pot a crime. Instead, someone caught with that amount would get a ticket and pay a fine of $55 to $125.

Saying the amount of pot was too much and the fines were too little, Rauner vetoed the bill.

Now the Legislature has passed new legislation that would reduce the amount of marijuana that wouldn’t be considered a crime to 10 grams. And the fines would go up to $100 to $200.

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This should be a no-brainer for the governor. He got changes he wanted, and the bill makes sense.

We don’t need to bog down our court systems with criminal cases filed against people who were caught with a small amount of marijuana. It’s a big expense in several ways. Tax dollars people pay for police protection instead are going to pay police to show up in court to help prosecute someone who had a tiny amount of pot. More serious crimes the police could have been preventing instead carry a cost. And people saddled with criminal records for recreational marijuana use may have trouble in the future obtaining jobs or housing, which carries a cost to society as well.

That’s why some law enforcement officials are pushing for the law, including the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

We’re not talking about El Chapo here. Ten grams or marijuana translates to about 11 to 13 joints, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which has supported the bill.

And if local governments think the penalties are insufficient, they’re free to add in extra fines or to require drug treatment.

The law would codify statewide what already has been taking place at the municipal level. More than 100 Illinois local governments, including Chicago, have already eased criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

This bill is a compromise, a word we haven’t heard much in Springfield lately. That’s just another reason to sign it.

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