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I got arrested for a bag of weed. What is the law in Illinois on marijuana?

Lewis Gainor

Criminal defense attorney in Chicago concentrating in felony and DUI defense.

Possession of marijuana is a criminal offense in the state of Illinois. Despite the rising popularity of the legalization and decriminalization movements in California and elsewhere in the United States, marijuana is still a criminal offense.

Possession of marijuana is classified as a misdemeanor offense in Illinois as long as the total weight is 30 grams or less. 30 grams is equal to about one ounce (oz).

The legal term in Illinois for the narcotic is cannabis, as opposed to marijuana or weed, pot, dope, grass, kind, etc. Illinois law treats all different types of cannabis the same (e.g., cannabis grown in a laboratory to maximize its potency is still legally ordinary cannabis).

Misdemeanor offenses have a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,500. The judge is allowed to sentence the defendant to probation instead of jail, substance abuse counseling, random testing for alcohol and illegal drugs, and community service.

Because it is a misdemeanor offense, possession of cannabis does not result in a sentence of imprisonment in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). IDOC is the state penal system in which felons serve their sentences.

Misdemeanor jail sentences are served in the county jail, such as the Cook County Department of Corrections.

Possession of cannabis is classified as follows:
  • Up to 2.5 grams is a Class C misdemeanor. The punishment for a Class C misdemeanor is up to 30 days jail and a fine of $1,500.0
  • 2.5 to 10 grams of cannabis is a Class B misdemeanor offense, which has a possible penalty of 180 days jail and a fine of $1,500.
  • 10 grams to 30 grams of cannabis is a Class A misdemeanor. The possible sentence for a Class A misdemeanor under state law is up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,500.
There is a mandatory fine of $200 for a Class B and C misdemeanor cannabis charge, and a fine of $300 for a Class A misdemeanor.

How serious is a charge for possession of marijuana? The answer is, it depends where you get busted.

In Cook County, a cannabis charge is serious, but you can avoid jail with an attorney who knows what to do. The number of arrests for possession of cannabis in Chicago makes it necessary for the court system to provide alternatives to jail. If every person with a bag of weed went to jail in Chicago, the jail would have bodies stacked to the ceiling.

So, Chicago courts offer a deferred prosecution to drug offenders called Drug School. The program is run by the Cook County State's Attorney and requires 10 to 20 hours of drug education. The law establishing Drug School was written specifically for the Cook County State's Attorney because of the high volume of cases.

The state legislature estimated that Drug School would save $17 million over traditional prosecution.

If the defendant completes Drug School, the case will be dismissed. The record of arrest and the case number can also be expunged at a later date.

If an individual is certified by the State's Attorney that he or she has successfully completed the terms of the drug school, the State's Attorney shall waive prosecution for the immediate offense and discharge the case. See 55 ILCS 130/30.

But there is still reason to worry about a cannabis charge in Chicago: Drug School only takes place where the prosecution agrees to it.

Since Anita Alvarez was elected as the State's Attorney, Chicago prosecutors are taking all cases seriously. Alvarez campaigned on a promise to be tough on crime, and most lawyers would agree that the court system has changed in Cook County.

Now that Cook County prosecutors are taking these cases seriously, a cannabis charge in Chicago is similar to the cases in DuPage County. In DuPage, State's Attorney Joseph Birkett's office has a policy of not offering the minimum sentence for first-time offenders. The point of view in DuPage apparently is, even if this is the only arrest in your life, you should get a permanent criminal record.

In other collar counties, such as Will, Kane, Kendall, Lake and McHenry, these cases can be dangerous, too. The outcome of each cannabis case depends on the defendant's history and the nature of the present case. And often, it depends on the presiding judge.

One consequence of a cannabis charge is that it can cost you your federal financial aid. Federal law provides that a student who is found guilty of possessing cannabis will lose financial aid for one year on the first offense, and two years on the second offense. A third offense will disqualify the student for life.

According to the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), about one percent of students receiving federal financial aid lose their student loans because of a cannabis case.

So don't presume it's no big deal. Getting arrested for cannabis is a serious issue.

Lewis Gainor, the author of this blog, is a criminal defense attorney based in Chicago. His law practice is dedicated exclusively to criminal defense. He is a member of the prestigious federal trial bar. If you are facing cannabis charges, call him immediately at (224) 688-9118 for a free, confidential review of your cannabis charges.



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