Using an amendatory veto Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner sent a bipartisan bill (HB 218) decriminalizing marijuana possession sponsored by State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) on Friday that would reduce the legal amount of marijuana possession, back to the state legislature for recommended changes.
Rauner stated his explicit support for the measure, a nod to reducing the state prison population, that he has previously supported, but says that it “must be made carefully and incrementally.” A move that disappointed Cassidy and other sponsors and supporters.
The Chicago Tribune noted, “Under the proposal, people caught with up to 15 grams of marijuana — about the equivalent of 25 cigarette-sized joints — would not go to court but instead receive fines ranging from $55 to $125. Rauner said those standards were too lax and the threshold should be lowered to 10 grams and fines should range from $100 to $200.”
Some proponents of marijuana reform still see Rauner’s revision to the bill as a step forward, such as Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, who was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times, saying that the changes are “still a huge step forward.”
Cassidy in an emailed statement, to reporters, thinks otherwise. She says that she is frustrated by Rauner’s veto and that, “Throughout the legislative process we were diligent in gathering input from all stakeholders, including Republican leadership in both chambers as well as from members of Governor Rauner’s own administration. That is why it’s so incredibly frustrating to have him sweep the rug out from under us this afternoon with an amendatory veto asking for stricter punishments and higher fines.”
Prison population reduction has had the support of many elected officials and lawmakers, in Illinois, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and in recognition of that, Cassidy remarked, “The Governor knows that our state has massive overcrowding in our prisons and jails, and has said many times since last fall that he wants to reduce our prison population by 25 percent over the next 10 years. This bill, which had broad bipartisan support, would have helped to make that shared vision a reality.”
Rauner’s veto seems to do more with limitations, some observers say, than his previous statements would suggest, but for the bill’s chief sponsor, there is also a sense of bafflement, when she told the Tribune, “This goal of reducing the prison population is one that we share, but it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be accomplished with half measures,” Cassidy said. “It really comes down to with every change you make, someone gets arrested who wouldn’t otherwise. And if we want to keep people out of our jail system we have to take bold moves, and does putting someone in jail for 10 grams instead of 15 grams make us safer? I would argue it doesn’t.”
In her own statement, she stressed that Rauner’s veto “simply put a band aid on the wound when the real problem lies deep beneath the cut. Real progress was a pen stroke away.”
The Tribune said that “The bill now returns to lawmakers, who can vote to go along with Rauner’s changes or reject them. If lawmakers opt not to take up the changes, the bill dies. Cassidy said she would have to regroup with supporters to decide the next move.” What that move will be is unknown, and in summary she said, “At the end of the day, this bill could have been a major first step in our shared goal of reducing the prison population. The Governor had a chance to save our state money, and make the world a more just and civil place. We did our part; we gave him the bill he asked for.”