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Chicago criminal defense attorneysA total of 29 states have adopted medical marijuana laws and eight have legalized the drug for recreational use. Several others have also started to decrease the legal consequences for illegal possession of cannabis and related products. Illinois was one of the ones to recently join these ranks, bringing fairly substantial changes to the state’s approach to charges related to marijuana.

Small Possessions Considered a Civil Penalty

Last year, Governor Bruce Rauner approved the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana. Now, citizens found with up to 10 grams of the drug receive only a civil penalty, which is similar to a traffic ticket. Consequences include a fine of $100 to $200 per offense. In addition, citations are automatically expunged twice per year.

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Chicago criminal In a recent post on this blog, we discussed in detail how the approach to marijuana has evolved in recent years in the state of Illinois. Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, taking low-level possession of the drug from a potential felony to a civil offense comparable to a parking ticket. For many, the new law is a welcome change, as, under the previous statutes, a person could be prosecuted for low-level drug possession just for riding in the same car as another person with marijuana in his or her possession.

The new law, however, has also created a number of questions, particularly in regard to how law enforcement officers approach an investigation into possible drug possession. With low-level possession of marijuana no longer considered a crime, could drug sniffing dogs be largely out of job?

Reasonable Suspicion, Probable Cause, and Drug-Sniffing Dogs

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Chicago criminal defense attorneyIn June 1971—following the cultural and sexual revolutions of the 1960s—President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs. Over the next several years, the Nixon administration dramatically increased the size and scope of federal anti-drug agencies and began pushing for harsh sentences for even non-violent drug offenders. In the decades since, the United States government and others around the world have continued to fight against drugs, locking up millions and creating a thriving black market for illegal substances of all kinds. In many states, including Illinois, a person can be arrested just for riding in the same car as a person in possession of drugs.

Time for Change

After 45 years, however, there is growing pressure throughout the country for a new approach to America’s drug concerns. Perhaps the most telling indication of the evolution that is taking place is the national attitude toward marijuana. While the federal Drug Enforcement Agency continues to consider marijuana a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act—alongside drugs like heroin and LSD—individual states are taking action on their own. A Schedule I drug is one that has no currently accepted medical use, yet 28 states and the District of Columbia have created legal medical marijuana programs. Following this year’s general election, there are even six states that have legalized recreational use of the drug.

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