Last week, state legislators put Illinois on track to become the 21st state to decriminalize cannabis. If Governor Bruce Rauner signs the bill - and he's said he probably will - residents would no longer face up to 6 months in jail and a fine up to $1,500 or getting caught with between 2.5-10 grams of marijuana. Instead, They'll be ticketed between $100-$200 per offence.
But other Americans aren't so lucky. Some states impose hefty fines for small amounts of cannabis - even for personal use. Here are the 5 harshest state laws currently on the books for simple cannabis possession (based on data from NORML.
On the surface, the Sunflower State's penalties for simple possession of cannabis are comparable to many other regions. Anyone caught with 450 grams (roughly a pound) or less in Kansas faces a misdemeanor charge with up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000. But if caught with any amount a second time, the penalty jumps to 10 months to 3.5 years in jail and a fine up to $100,000.
But what really sets Kansas apart is the fact that a person can lose custody of their children if caught using marijuana. That's what happened to Raymond Schwab, a Gulf War veteran who was deemed unfit to raise his five children when the state learned that he traveled to Colorado to treat his PTSD with medical marijuana.
Schwab traveled to Colorado because medical marijuana is still illegal in Kansas. Read more about Raymond's story here.
Unlike in Kansas, lawmakers in Michigan aren't as lenient about weights and measures. Unless you're a medical marijuana patient, getting caught with any amount of cannabis can result in a misdemeanor charge carrying up to one year in prison and a maximum fine of $2,000. But if you're caught within 1,000 feet of a park, the punishment can jump to two years in prison and a $2,000 fine.
Worse yet, giving away any amount of marijuana - even a joint - counts as sale without remuneration, which can be punished with a year imprisonment and $1,000 fine. So don't be a good cannabis Samaritan in the Wolverine State.
Michigan is strict, but the penalties for simple possession don't increase for repeat offenders like in Tennessee. Getting caught with half an ounce or less results in a misdemeanor charge carrying up to one year of jail time for a first and second offence. But a third strike will result in a felony charge carrying a one to six 6 year sentence. The maximum fines also increase from $250 to $500 to $1,000 for each offence.
But getting caught even once more than half an ounce in the Volunteer State means facing a felony charge with one to six years in prison and up to $5,000 fine. And as in Kansas, Tennessee bans medical marijuana, so you'll face jail time whether you're puffing a joint for aches and pains or just to relax.
The Cheese State escalates punishments for possession even quicker than Tennessee. Getting caught with any amount of cannabis in Wisconsin can result in six months in prison and/or a $1,000 fine. But a second offence - again, for any amount - jumps to a prison sentence of up to 3.5 years and/or a fine of $10,000.
So if you get busted once, Wisconsin is more lenient than Tennessee. But if you get caught twice, Tennessee is a better place to get tried. That is, unless you get caught with a pipe or other paraphernalia as well, which comes with a punishment of up to 30 days in prison or a maximum fine of $500 in Wisconsin. But in Tennessee, you're facing up to one year in prison and a fine between $150-$2,500.
The Sooner State is not forgiving when it comes to cannabis. Getting caught with any amount in Oklahoma is a crime that could result in spending a year in prison. But a second offence is much worse: two to 10 years imprisonment. There are no fines for possession, but if you are caught with paraphernalia you might face a year in prison as well as a $1,000 fine (which can increase to $5,000 and up to $10,000 for second and third offences).
And if you're ever tempted to make hash - even for personal consumption, don't do it in Oklahoma: the penalty is a fine up to $50,000 and a sentence of 2 years to life in prison.