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Ill. Supreme Court sets new rules for pot decriminalization law

A law Gov. Bruce Rauner signed in July gave the state Supreme Court the authority to further clarify the newly defined "civil law violation" of possessing up to 10 grams of cannabis or drug paraphernalia. | Associated Press file photo

The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday announced it has created new rules for the state’s cannabis decriminalization law — including setting a $120 fine for those caught with up to 10 grams of cannabis or drug paraphernalia.

The law, which Gov. Bruce Rauner signed on July 29, gave the state Supreme Court the authority to further clarify the newly defined “civil law violation” of possessing up to 10 grams of cannabis or drug paraphernalia.

Under the law, the violation is punishable by a fine between $100 and $200. In one of six newly created rules, the fine was set at $120 per violation.

Before the law was created, that offense was considered a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and fines up to $1,500. Possession of drug paraphernalia was a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and a fine between $750 and $2,500.

In another, a rule was created to give circuit court clerks the ability to expunge a record after a cannabis violation is resolved. The rule changed the language in a record-keeping manual to give clerks that authority. The new rule also changed the manual’s language to ensure the confidentiality of offenders under age 18.

Additionally, a new rule allows those who are cited for civil law violations to pay the $120 fine by mail without having to appear in court — which is similar to the process for minor traffic violations.

Under the law, tickets will be automatically expunged on Jan. 1 and July 1 every year.

Rauner signed the legislation in July after vetoing a bill last year that sought to allow slightly larger amounts of marijuana to be treated with leniency.

The new law also addresses driving under the influence of pot, setting a scientific standard for the amount of marijuana’s THC in the bloodstream that would prompt an arrest. Previously, the state had a zero tolerance policy. Even a trace of marijuana in a motorist’s blood could lead to a DUI.

The bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, has argued that 98 percent of the more than 50,000 marijuana-related arrests in Illinois each year are for small amounts, intended for personal use.

Last year, the governor vetoed a bill that would have made possession of up to 15 grams of pot a ticketable offense; Rauner said at the time that it would allow people to carry too much pot and that fines should be more than $55 to $125.

Chicago has already joined more than 100 Illinois local governments in removing some criminal penalties for people caught with lesser amounts of marijuana. But the new law extends decriminalization to the entire state.

Illinois is now the 21st state to decriminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.