Laws controlling the use of marijuana are some of the most rapidly changing in the country. Each year, more and more states pass laws allowing the use of medical marijuana to treat ailments. Several states have relaxed marijuana laws one step further and have either decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana or have legalized recreational use of the substance.
While Illinois has changed its laws to allow the use of medical marijuana, recreational use is still prohibited. If you are facing a drug charge related to marijuana, it's important to know your rights and understand how changes to marijuana laws can impact your charge.
In 2016, possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized in the state of Illinois, leaving those found in possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana with a civil citation rather than a criminal charge. Sale of marijuana, however, is still prohibited.
Usage of marijuana for medicinal purposes has was legalized in Illinois in 2013 through the adoption of Illinois statute 410 ILCS 130, also known as the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act. Under the Act, medical marijuana can be prescribed to individuals who meet certain conditions.
Qualifying Medical Conditions
In order to be eligible for a medical marijuana card in Illinois, an applicant must suffer from a "debilitating medical condition." The Act spells out a large number of diseases and ailments which are considered debilitating medical conditions, and include:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Muscular dystrophy
- Spinal cord injury
- Parkinson's disease
- Tourette's disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Terminal illness with a prognosis of 6 months or less to live
Steps to Obtaining a Medical Marijuana Card
The process of obtaining a medical marijuana card includes several steps, which must be followed down to the letter in order for a person to be approved for a medical marijuana card. Steps for applying for a card include:
- Providing written certification from your physician that you should be prescribed medical marijuana;
- Proving that you are an Illinois resident by showing bank statements, utility bills, voter registration cards, or driver's licenses;
- Signing an application form naming the dispensary you will use and designating a caregiver who can pick up the marijuana your behalf;
- Paying an application fee;
- Sending in a passport-style photo;
Rules for Medical Marijuana Cardholders
The penalty for breaking one of these rules can result in severe consequences, along with the revocation of your medical marijuana card. These rules state that:
- A person who is issued a medical marijuana card can only possess 2.5 grams of the substance unless the person has obtained a waiver allowing possession of a larger amount to treat medical conditions;
- A person can only purchase 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana every 14 days unless a waiver is obtained by a physician; and
- Medical marijuana must be transported in a sealed, tamper-evident package which is inaccessible while the car is in motion.
New Laws Surrounding Medical Marijuana
Laws surrounding medical marijuana in Illinois continue to change rapidly. The most recent change to marijuana laws in the state took place in August of 2018 in the passage of Senate Bill 336, which has made the process of obtaining a medical marijuana card easier for individuals who qualify. Effects of the new law include:
- Allowing medical marijuana to be used in place of addictive opioid pain medications;
- Removing the requirement of background checks and fingerprinting for those who apply for a medical marijuana card to treat a chronic condition; and
- Allowing patients temporary approval for the purchase of medical marijuana while waiting for their applications to be processed.
Penalties for Unauthorized Possession
Penalties which a person can face for possession of marijuana vary greatly depending upon the amount for which a person is bound to be in possession and whether the person has been charged with any previous drug-related offenses. The larger the amount of marijuana a person is found to possess, the more severe the potential penalties upon conviction of such a charge. A person who is found to be in possession of marijuana can face the following penalties:
- 10 Grams or less: a civil violation with up to a $200 fine;
- 11 to 30 grams (first offense): a Class B misdemeanor charge with a maximum fine of $1,500 and up to 6 months in a county jail;
- 11 to 30 grams (subsequent offenses): a felony conviction with one to six years in prison, along with a fine of up to $25,000; and
- Over 31 grams: a felony conviction between of up to 30 years, depending on the amount possessed and any prior offenses.
Penalties for Improper Growing and Distribution
Even with the legalization of medical marijuana in Illinois, the process of growing and distributing marijuana remains highly regulated. Individuals who wish cultivate and dispense medical marijuana must go through a rigorous process in order to obtain approval for such activity. Steps to become licensed to cultivate or dispense medical marijuana include setting up a corporate structure, formulating a business plan, acquiring licenses, and complying with all regulations once open for business. Failure to comply with these steps can lead a person to face serious consequences.
Improper Cultivation of Marijuana
In contrast to marijuana possession, which is based upon the number of grams a person is found with, penalties for cultivation of marijuana depend on the number of plants that person maintains. Individuals found with marijuana plants face the following penalties upon conviction:
- Five plants or less: misdemeanor conviction, up to one year in the county jail, and a fine of up to $2,500;
- 6 to 20 plants: felony conviction, 1 to 6 years in prison, and a fine of $25,000;
- 21 to 50 plants: felony conviction, 2 to 10 years in prison, and a fine of up to $25,000;
- 51 to 200 plants: felony conviction, imprisonment between 3 and 14 years, along with a fine of up to $100,000;
- Over 200 plants: felony conviction, between 4 and 30 years in prison, and a fine of up to $100,000.
Improper Distribution of Marijuana
Whether illegally selling recreational marijuana or failing to comply with medical marijuana requirements as a dispensary, those who have been charged with distribution of marijuana can face serious penalties if convicted, including:
- up to 2.5 grams: misdemeanor conviction, up to 6 months in county jail, and a fine of up to $1,500;
- 2.5 to 10 grams: misdemeanor conviction, up to 3 years in prison, and a fine of up to $25,000;
- 11 to 30 grams: felony conviction, imprisonment for up to 3 years, and a fine of up to $25,000; and
- 30 or more grams: felony conviction, 2 to 30 years in prison, and a fine of up to $200,000 depending on the amount possessed.
Federal Marijuana Law v. Illinois Marijuana Law
Although many states have conformed their laws to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize possession of marijuana for recreational purposes, federal lawmakers have failed to enact similar changes. As a result, possession of marijuana is federally prohibited, even in states where possession is decriminalized or legal.
In addition to marijuana possession remaining illegal on a federal level, the substance is classified by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled dangerous substance. This drug schedule contains the most dangerous drugs of the 5 drug schedules which are present on the federal level, and drugs in this category are perceived to have no possible medical value and a very high potential for abuse. Interestingly, marijuana shares its schedule with dangerous drugs such as heroin, while the "less-harmful" Schedule II contains cocaine and methamphetamine.
Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer Quickly
When it comes to marijuana crimes, it's unwise to try to defend against your charge on your own. As the laws surrounding marijuana is ever-changing, hiring a criminal defense attorney who is experienced in defending against drug charges can give you the best chance at obtaining a successful outcome in your case.
The benefits of an attorney's representation do not end at a knowledge of updated laws; a seasoned criminal defense attorney may also be able to introduce a legal defense to the charges that you face. A successful charge can lessen the potential punishment that you face upon conviction of your charge. In certain cases, a defense asserted by your attorney may be so damaging to the prosecutor's case that your charges could be dropped altogether. Common defenses to marijuana-based drug charges include:
- Fourth Amendment violations which resulted in an unlawful search or seizure conducted without probable cause;
- A crime lab analysis which shows that the substance for which your charge was based was not actually marijuana;
- The marijuana which you were charged with possessing, cultivating, or distributing was not actually yours; and
- The marijuana you were charged with possessing is covered under a medical marijuana exception for which you have a medical marijuana card.
Facing a Marijuana-Related Drug Charge? We Can Help
If you're a resident of Illinois who has been arrested for a drug charge related to marijuana, it's important to seek legal representation as quickly as possible following your charge. Despite legislative changes on the horizon around the country with regard to marijuana usage, drug charges involving marijuana are still serious offenses, and should be handled by a competent criminal defense attorney.
To speak with a member of Dolci & Weiland's legal team about your marijuana charge and take the next steps toward protecting your rights, fill out an online case evaluation form or contact the location nearest to you today--for our downtown Chicago office, call (312) 238-9007, or for our DuPage office, call (630) 261-9098.