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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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Crystal Lake criminal defense attorney, drug crimes, Illinois drug penalties, drug crime penalties, criminal penalties, decriminalize marijuanaSentencing reform has been a hot topic among policymakers, particularly as it relates to non-violent drug crimes. This push comes in light of the fervor with which the United States incarcerates its own citizens. In fact, according to the International Center for Prison Studies, the U.S. has 716 people in prison for every 100,000 people in the country, giving it the largest per capita prison population in the world. Importantly, a large swath of these incarcerations are the result of non-violent drug crimes.

Now, the Mayor of Chicago is getting involved in the debate. Speaking at a panel for the Illinois General Assembly, the Mayor urged the state legislators to reduce the severity of drug crimes across the entire state using a two-pronged approach.

The Proposed Reductions

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Illinois State Bar Association State Bar of Wisconsin Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce Illinois Trial Lawyers Association McHenry County Bar Association
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