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Marijuana Odor Enough to Permit Vehicle SearchA couple of years ago, Illinois changed its Cannabis Control Act to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana is a civil law violation, punishable by a fine of $100 to $200. The change decreases the number of people who may face misdemeanor drug possession charges for what is a minor offense. However, decriminalization is not the same as legalization, a fact that recently prevented an Illinois defendant from suppressing evidence in a criminal case.

Recent Case

In People v. Rice, the defendant was charged, convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison for possession of a controlled substance. A police officer had stopped the defendant’s vehicle for speeding and decided to conduct a search because he smelt burnt cannabis. During the search, police allegedly found:

  • A small bag containing marijuana on the defendant;
  • Two sealed envelopes containing $37,000 in the vehicle; and
  • A box that contained 1,300 methamphetamine pills.

Probable Cause

The defendant argued that the evidence from the police search should be suppressed because the scent of marijuana did not give the officer probable cause to conduct a search. He cited the change to Illinois law that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling. Massachusetts voters had passed a referendum that decriminalized the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. The Massachusetts court determined that the scent of marijuana was no longer enough evidence of criminal activity to conduct a search because the amount that the suspect possesses may not be a criminal offense.

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Possessing Party Drugs Has Serious Criminal PenaltiesHalloween is one of the most popular party nights of the year for young adults. Before you attend this year’s bash, you should be aware of the possible criminal consequences of being caught with illegal drugs. Possession of party drugs such as hallucinogens is a felony that could result in prison for a first offense. Even if you keep yourself clean, you risk arrest by associating with people who have the drugs.

Legal Penalties

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency classifies party drugs, such as ecstasy or LSD, as Schedule 1 drugs, meaning that they have a high potential for abuse and no approved medical use. Illinois’ criminal penalties for possession of a party drug become more severe depending on how many doses you possessed:

  • Possessing 15 or fewer doses is a class 4 felony, with a possible prison sentence of 1 to 3 years;
  • Possessing 16 to 200 doses is a class 1 felony, with a minimum of 4 years and a maximum of 15 years in prison; and
  • Possessing more than 200 doses is still a class 1 felony, but the minimum and maximum prison sentences increase.

Law enforcement considers party drugs to be particularly dangerous because users often do not know what ingredients are in the drug. Combining the drugs with alcohol consumption can increase the health risk for users. Some people use party drugs to sedate victims in cases of sexual assault.

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How Marijuana Possession Can Be Both Legal and IllegalIn many states, the difference between state and federal marijuana laws creates a bizarre contradiction. Possessing marijuana can at the same time be legal and illegal, depending on which level of government you are dealing with. The federal government is strict in its ban of buying, selling and possessing marijuana. Many states are more liberal with their marijuana laws and allow possession for medicinal and recreational purposes. However, state laws will not protect you against federal charges for marijuana possession.

Drug Schedules

The federal government’s classification of drugs is based on the Controlled Substances Act, which groups drugs into five schedules:

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All Forms of Synthetic Cannabis May Soon Be Illegal in IllinoisFour people in Illinois have died and several others have been hospitalized in recent weeks due to adverse reactions after consuming synthetic cannabis. The substance, branded with names such as Spice and K2, caused internal bleeding in some of the people who used it, which police suspect was because it contained rat poison. In response, the Illinois Senate quickly approved a bill that would make all forms of synthetic cannabis illegal. The Illinois House of Representatives will now take up the bill. Lawmakers hope the legislation will close a loophole that has allowed synthetic cannabis to be sold in convenience stores.

What Is Synthetic Cannabis?

Synthetic cannabis is a plant that has been sprayed with an artificial cannabinoid meant to reproduce the effect of THC in cannabis. The product can come in solid or liquid form for the purpose of being smoked. Marijuana users are attracted to the product because it:

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Recreational Marijuana Would Create New Criminal ChargesIllinois will have a referendum question on the November 2018 election ballot asking whether the state should allow the production and sale of recreational marijuana for people age 21 and older. The results of the referendum will not be binding, but asking voters the question shows that lawmakers are seriously considering legalization. If Illinois does decide to legalize recreational marijuana, the state will have a lot of work to do in order to regulate it, including changing the state’s criminal drug laws. There are several complicated factors involved with legalizing marijuana on a state level:

  1. Quantity Limits: States that allow recreational marijuana put limits on how many plants a person may cultivate and how many ounces they may possess. People using marijuana for medical purposes are generally allowed to grow and possess more.
  2. Public Use: States with legalized marijuana generally do not allow people to use it in public places, including designated smoking areas. The infraction can be a misdemeanor, depending on how much the person has in his or her possession.
  3. Distribution: As with medical marijuana or liquor, only licensed vendors would be allowed to sell recreational marijuana. Selling or delivering marijuana without a license would be a criminal offense.
  4. Underage Possession: Illinois has signaled that there would be an age minimum of 21 in order to possess marijuana. Unlike with underage possession of alcohol, the amount of marijuana that the underage person possesses could change the severity of the charges.
  5. Driving While High: Driving under the influence of marijuana is already a crime in Illinois, with a zero-tolerance policy because the substance is illegal. Driving while high on marijuana would still be a crime. However, lawmakers would need to come up with a new standard for determining when a person’s marijuana use has impaired his or her driving.
  6. State vs. Federal Law: Unless the U.S. Congress changes the law, it will still be a federal crime to possess and distribute marijuana. States have jurisdiction over people who use or sell the substance within their borders. Transporting marijuana over a state line is a federal offense, even if both states allow recreational marijuana.

Growing Pains

Local law enforcement would need time to adjust to the new laws if Illinois legalizes recreational marijuana. There would likely be several arrests as police and the public learn what constitutes legal marijuana possession. A McHenry County criminal defense attorney can help you contest your drug charges, regardless of whether Illinois’ laws change. To schedule a free consultation, call 815-338-3838.

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