Illinois took a big step toward legalization today when State Representative Kelly Cassidy (D) announced a bill that would replace criminal penalties for possession of marijuana with small fines.

"This is a reasonable proposal that is long overdue," Cassidy said in a press release. "It needs to happen, and I am hopeful that we can make it happen quickly since it's already such familiar territory for legislators and the governor."

Religious leaders praise the initiative

Cassidy was joined at the news conference by members of local religious communities who support decriminalization.

"When members of our communities are saddled with criminal records for possession, it hurts future job, housing, and educational prospects. Individuals become 'marked for life,'" said Rev. Alexander E. Sharp, executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy. "We know from experience here and across the country that harsh marijuana penalties don't deter use — they just hurt our communities when individuals' lives are harmed from life-altering criminal records."
"Our current law is particularly hard on communities of color, and this bill helps bring standards that can apply to all residents of our state," added Rev. Jason Coulter, pastor of Ravenswood United Church of Christ. "Not only does this bill free up law enforcement to address serious crime, it helps ensure fairness in how the law affects lives regardless of where people live and how they look."

So what happens next?

Dan Linn of Illinois NORML says the bill stands a chance of becoming law. "This bill is a good compromise that most stakeholders will be happy with and should receive bipartisan support," Linn told Civilized.

The Democrats have a majority in the state's House of Representatives and the Senate, but they've had to comprise in an attempt to win the support of the Republican governor Bruce Rauner.

Rauner vetoed the last attempt to decriminalize cannabis - a bill introduced by Kelly Cassidy in August.

But Rauner didn't close the door on cannabis reform. Instead of outright rejecting the proposed law, he used his veto to suggest revisions, which Cassidy has added to the new bill.

"I support the fundamental purposes of this bill," Rauner wrote in his veto letter. "Recognizing that this legislation is a significant change in how our State handles illegal drug possession, any change must be made carefully and incrementally."

If passed, possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana would be punishable in the state with a fine. Adults would not face jail time, and the offense would not be automatically expunged in order to prevent a permanent criminal record.

The bill has broad-based support

Rauner isn't the only politician outside the state's Democratic caucus who wants decriminalization. Cassidy's bill has also won support from Claire Ball and Scott Schluter, the Libertarians who are suing the state of Illinois for violating the U.S. Constitution by refusing to allow politicians to accept donations from the cannabis industry.

In an email to Civilized, Ball hailed the bill as a step toward writing the wrongs of prohibition.

"America has a history with prohibition, and that history shows that it doesn't work. Good people are thrown in prison, tearing families apart and creating criminal records that haunt people their whole lives - all from using a substance far less harmful than alcohol. Dangerous black markets arise in its wake, and the ensuing violence destroys entire communities. Today, cannabis is widely accepted and recognized for what it is, and the majority of Americans look forward to the benefits from both medical marijuana and hemp products. This is a step in the right direction for Illinois."

Meanwhile, Schluter told Civilized that the bill will lessen government interference in the lives of average citizens.

"It's ridiculous that we still have these barbaric laws across the country that throw people in cages because a bunch of old white guys in ties disapprove of their gardens. It's past time that we start getting the government out of our garden and out of our lives."

Will cannabis be legalized soon?

Full legalization isn't on the horizon for Illinois, but cannabis reform is well underway. In November, the state's first medicinal marijuana dispensaries opened, serving patients with 33 approved medical conditions. In the New Year, the Prairie State will begin receiving petitions from patients hoping to add their conditions to that list.

All of these bills represent forward momentum. The end of prohibition may soon be in sight.

h/t Fox Chicago