Should possession of hard drugs ever be a misdemeanor charge? Some Illinois legislators say ‘yes’

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ROBINSON, Il (WTWO/WAWV) — A bill at the Illinois Statehouse could lessen the penalties for drug possession. It would make small amounts of certain hard drugs, like three grams of heroin or three grams of fentanyl misdemeanors instead of felonies.

Ben Ruddell, Director of Criminal Justice Policy with A.C.L.U., says he is in favor of the proposed legislation.

“Right now we’re making it harder by putting people in prison and giving people felony records. This bill seeks to connect people with treatment in their communities instead of incarcerating them and saddling them with this burdensome felony record,” Ruddell said.

Opposing this bill is Robinson Police Department Chief, Chad Weaver. He says while there is a drug problem in Illinois and across the nation, this bill doesn’t attack the root of the issue.

“Well, I think the negative implications of that are that people who would have taken off the streets are still going to be on the streets. You know, if they’re not getting sentenced to consequences, number one, the deterrent to avoid that is gone, and not only that you turn them back to the streets,” Weaver said.

Individuals caught with amounts of drugs could still face time behind bars in a county jail. The proposed bill would also allow the possibility of record expungements.

“There’s no reason why we need to treat possessing a small amount of drugs as a felony, even if we are going to treat it as a crime, which this bill would. It’s not a radical approach,” Ruddell said.

Weaver says he is in favor of expungement under certain parameters.

“It should definitely be in their past, not their future under certain circumstances,” Weaver said. “If they want to dump energy, dump funding, and create legislation, and try to fix this, it’s not through decriminalization. It’s not reducing the severity of those crimes,” Weaver said.

Ruddell said among the reasons he is in favor of this bill is due to the mental health of patients after they’ve left prison, due to related charges of small drug possession.

“The underlying factor is the idea of what we are doing now is helping, that locking people up in jail, that people are receiving treatment when they’re in jail, which most of the time is not true,” Ruddell added.

Weaver states while he doesn’t agree with calling the system in place broken, he is in favor of continuously updating procedures for modern day issues. But, there is a line between doing too much at once the chief added.

“There are consequences not thought about. Us as police officers are on the frontline dealing with it everyday and we’re the ones that feel the pain of it. We’re the ones that kind of say “this where this is going to end up,” Weaver said. “If you’re not able to have someone stay in jail overnight they’re not going to get clean enough to realize they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing,”

HB 3447 went to the Illinois State Senate in late April for consideration.

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