Illinois pot laws: the legal, the decriminalized and the illegal

Emily Gray Brosious

December 21, 2016: 11:16 AM CT

Illinois marijuana laws: The legal, the illegal and the decriminalized
(Image credit: Alex Milan Tracy/Demotix/Corbis)


If you’re one of the many Illinoisans struggling to pick a New Year’s resolution this year, we’d like to make a suggestion: In 2017, get to know your legal rights.

It’s a big undertaking, but learning about your rights in relation to marijuana laws is a great place to start.

Here’s a simple primer on current Illinois marijuana laws to get you started.


Legal: Medical marijuana

Medical marijuana is legal in Illinois for qualified patients who are registered with the state.

The state’s Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act took effect on Aug. 1, 2013. Dispensaries across the state began selling medical cannabis to patients and caregivers on Nov. 9, 2015.

To qualify for medical cannabis, adult patients (18 and older) must have proof of Illinois residency and a written certification from a physician specifying one or more specific debilitating medical conditions. Forty conditions currently qualify for the program.

Patients diagnosed with a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six months or less may also apply for a medical cannabis card in Illinois.

Children under 18 need two physician certifications to apply for medical cannabis, and their adult parent or legal guardian must serve as a primary caregiver.

Medical marijuana cardholders may purchase up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks. Home cultivation is not legal in Illinois, and neither is public consumption. Registered patients can only use their medical cannabis privately.

Anyone convicted of a felony drug crime, or other certain violent crimes, is ineligible for the medical marijuana program. Members of law enforcement, commercial drivers, school bus drivers and many federal employees are also prohibited from using medical cannabis.

The medical marijuana pilot program is set to expire on July 1, 2020. More information about how to apply for the program can be found here.


Decriminalized: Simple marijuana possession

In July 2016, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a decriminalization bill into law. The measure directs law enforcement to issue civil violations (rather than criminal charges) to individuals caught possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana intended for personal use. Cannabis-related civil violations, much like traffic tickets, carry small fines (up to $200) but no jail time.

Decriminalization should not be confused with legalization, however. They are not the same.

Decriminalization basically equates to stripping away the criminal penalties associated with certain illegal activities. In the case of marijuana, decriminalization only applies to low-level possession offenses.

Legalization takes it a step further, and creates a legal framework for retail marijuana sales and (sometimes) home cultivation.


Illegal: Recreational marijuana, possessing more than 10 grams, home cultivation, sales and trafficking

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana for adults, but Illinois is not one of them. All recreational pot use is legally prohibited in Illinois, and only registered patients are allowed to use the drug for medical purposes.

Despite decriminalization, anyone caught possessing more than 10 grams of marijuana can still face arrest, jail time and serious fines.

First-time possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana for personal use (up to 30 grams) is a misdemeanor offense that can carry up to one year behind bars and up to $2,500 in fines.

Subsequent possession of 10 to 30 grams of personal pot is a felony charge, punishable by one to six years of incarceration and up to $25,000 in fines.

Possession of 30 to 500 grams of marijuana for personal use is a felony charge on first offense, and carries up to six years behind bars and up to $25,000 in fines.

Penalties for sale and trafficking are generally stiffer than possession-only penalties.

Learn more about Illinois marijuana sentencing laws here and here.


Related gallery:

Most popular medical marijuana strains in Illinois

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Gallery source links: All Bud, Leafly
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@rogue_raven_farms/Instagram, @ggstrains/Instagram,
@for_20.0/Instagram, @cannacares/Instagram

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