There has been a lot to celebrate lately in world of marijuana legalization news. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both seem to support federal marijuana legalization, Illinois just decriminalized marijuana, California voters will decide on recreational marijuana this November, and marijuana patients in Florida can now get their medicine. Why not toke one in honor of these latest little milestones and victories in marijuana legalization efforts?
Illinois marijuana users in can breathe a small sigh of relief thanks to a recent decision to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana within the state. Instead of facing court, arrest, and potential jail time, people who get caught carrying less than 10 grams of marijuana, intended for personal use, will now be hit with just a fine, set at a maximum of $200. This makes Illinois the seventeenth state to decriminalize marijuana possession in small amounts, and the country's third largest state so far to do so. Medical marijuana is currently regulated in Illinois under a pilot program that's recently been extended into 2020 and expanded to make marijuana available to PTSD and terminal illness patients, but before now, possession of non-medical marijuana in any amount was considered a criminal offense instead of a minor civil offense.
For those of us in Colorado and other states where recreational marijuana is legal and we can just walk right into one of the many marijuana dispensaries and buy some bud or even clones–not to mention the marijuana deals , daily specials, and the wide variety of marijuana strains—the idea of a possible $200 fine just for carrying a joint in your pocket seems ridiculously harsh and unfair, but for people in Illinois, it's a big improvement.
Prior to the bill's signing, people who got caught with even weed residue could potentially be arrested on the spot and taken to jail. Or, you might just get a ticket, all depending on the cop's sole decision. While Chicago and approximately 100 other cities in Illinois had already taken the step of giving police officers the ability to issue citations for minor marijuana offenses rather than making arrests, many of the state's lawmakers had concerns about whether or not the police were being unbiased in how they handled marijuana crimes. Democratic Senator Heather Steans, one of the bill's sponsors, stated, “We’re treating people really differently across the state, and we should be really getting out of that.”
Meanwhile in Florida medical marijuana advocates are celebrating the smallest steps towards progress in a state where marijuana laws have been notoriously harsh. Florida approved the medical use of non-euphoric, high CBD marijuana strains for people who have cancer or other debilitating diseases two years ago, but due to delays and obstacles in getting licenses for dispensaries, it was just last week that the first medical dispensary was able to make its first sale. Still, only high CBD strains that are virtually void of THC are available in Florida, such as the Charlotte's Web strain often prescribed to children who need it for its medical benefits. This means that no matter how much you smoke of the medical weed in Florida, you won't at all get high. That might change with a proposed amendment that will be on the November election ballot. Amendment 2 would make medical marijuana available to more patients and it would also allow for strains containing higher THC content. Not a huge step forward, but a step nonetheless.
Across the country, attitudes about marijuana are rapidly changing as cannabis makes the mainstream news daily and more and more states opt to reexamine and transform their marijuana laws. Marijuana is big business, and for the many states struggling with budget issues, cannabis legalization is beginning to look very appealing. California voters will decide on Proposition 64 this November, a California marijuana legalization initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana sales and impose a 15% sales tax, which if it passes, is expected to generate upwards of one billion dollars in tax revenue in the first year alone. With Hillary Clinton representing a Democratic Party platform that urges a pathway towards federal legalization and Donald Trump contradicting the Republican Party platform by recently saying that both medical and recreational marijuana laws should be left up to the states, marijuana consumers, activists, and entrepreneurs have a lot to be hopeful for.