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Chicago's Decriminalization of Marijuana Causes Ripple Effect Throughout Illinois


Last June, the Chicago City Council voted to decriminalize small, personal amounts of marijuana. The new law allows police officers to issue citations in the amount of $250 – $500 to individuals caught within the Chicago city limits with fifteen grams of pot or less. The defendants would have the option of paying the fine or fighting the charges through the Cook, Kane, or DuPage County courts. Outside of the city limits of Chicago, marijuana is still a misdemeanor crime—a fact that may be problematic for the new law.

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment contains the "Equal Protection Clause," which states that "No state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Under the Cannabis Control Act of the state of Illinois, a person in possession of any amount of cannabis commits a misdemeanor violation to the law, and therefore, subject to arrest—with the exception of Chicago. Because of the Chicago decision to decriminalize cannabis, there now exists an unequal application of the law within the state of Illinois. As criminal defense attorneys in greater Chicago, we represent individuals who have been charged with possession of cannabis on both sides of the Chicago city limits. Obviously, an individual who is cited for possession of cannabis in Chicago receives much better treatment than one who is taken to jail, processed, asked to post bond, and then must face a criminal trial.

Potential Outcomes of the New Cannabis Decriminalization Law

Because the law only went into effect in August, it's too early to know what legal challenges based on the Equal Protection Clause lie ahead. One of three possible outcomes seem likely:

  • The Chicago ordinance will be stricken down by the courts
  • The Illinois legislature will adapt to the new Chicago law and decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis
  • Neither the Illinois law or the city ordinance will change, allowing this uneven application of the law to remain

The Wheaton area Law Offices of Brucar & Yetter defend individuals who have been cited for possession of cannabis under Chicago's new ordinance as well as those who have been arrested under the state's tougher drug laws. The criminal defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Brucar & Yetter represent clients in Rolling Meadows, Saint Charles, Wheaton, Chicago, Cook, DuPage, Kane, and throughout the state of Illinois.

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