Prisoners may have option for release under recreational pot bill

Prisoners may have an option for release if recreational marijuana is legalized. (Credit: MGN Online)

The senator sponsoring a bill to legalize recreational marijuana said it may include a path for inmates to be released from prison if they're only charged with possession of cannabis.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated roughly 750,000 Illinoisans use marijuana regularly, but state records show Illinois has only issued 50,000 medical marijuana cards.

"95 percent is growing it on the black market," Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said.

Steans said that's one reason why recreational marijuana prohibition needs to end.

"They don't know the product they're getting," Steans said. "It's laced with fentanyl - it could be laced with all sorts of things. It's very dangerous. And you're feeding the black market, criminal systems, rather than having it taxed and regulated and know what you're getting."

Steans has been working for about a year and a half to legalize recreational cannabis for adult use.

One aspect she's considering with her bill is releasing inmates charged solely with cannabis possession.

The charges would have to be Class 4 felonies and below.

"I think there is very few that are in only for a cannabis possession, but we're looking at that," Steans said.

Data from the Illinois Department of Corrections showed that on June 30, 2018, they housed almost 41,000 inmates.

Only 32 of them were in for cannabis offenses that'd fit the bill for release under the terms being discussed right now.

"We are also looking at making up to Class 4 felonies and misdemeanors for possession expungeable," Steans said.

Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs' Association, who's against legalizing recreational marijuana, said expungement in any case worries him.

"Expungement becomes much more difficult for us because then you've wiped the record completely clean and there's really no information that we can ever go back to," Kaitschuk said.

They'd prefer the state consider sealing records rather than expunging them.

"The expectation is, from an overall expungement standpoint, that law enforcement -- regardless of that, that somehow we know," Kaitschuk said. "Well if the records have been expunged, we're not going to know."

Steans said she hopes to have her bill to legalize recreational marijuana for adult use drafted by January.

Read more on what this bill would entail here.

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