A week ago today California became the first state to decriminalize marijuana, making the maximum punishment for possession of less than an ounce of herb just a $100 fine, about the equivalent of a speeding ticket
. Might Illinois be the next state to follow suit?
According to Sheriff Mearl Justus
, the long-tenured lawman from across the river in St. Clair County, the answer is yes.
Justus, a Democrat currently running for re-election against Republican Stephen McArthur
, told the Belleville News-Democrat
that "The day is probably fast-approaching in Illinois that we are going to see decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana...Then law enforcement can spend more time on more serious crimes and spend more time on more serious cases."
Justus told the BND that, although marijuana arrests account for a significant amount of his department's property seizures (i.e. stuff that's confiscated by police and auctioned off to the public), the $385 in court costs that come with arresting a person for misdemeanor marijuana possession ultimately make existing laws untenable.
Justus likened the marijuana situation to times of Prohibition.
"If you wanted a drink in that time period, you knew where to get a drink. ... Why would anybody think that access to small amounts of marijuana would be any different?"
Predictably, McArthur countered Justus' views with the head-in-the-sand approach, saying "I've seen the effects of marijuana, and it leads to other drugs, harder drugs."
Both candidates say they are in favor of medical marijuana but a bill that would've permitted prescription pot in the Land of Lincoln
died earlier this year.
It's also worth noting that while California recently decriminalized marijuana, the state's voters will decide next month if weed will be legalized and taxed like alcohol to help pad the cash-strapped state's coffers. Justus and other elected officials dealing with Illinois' $12 billion budget deficit
ought to pay attention.