Bill lowering criminal penalties for certain levels of drug possession narrowly passes Illinois House

(The Center Square) – A bill that would lower criminal penalties for possession of drugs like methamphetamine and fentanyl narrowly passed the Illinois House Wednesday.

State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, defended her House Bill 3447 that opponents like state Rep. Tony McCombie worried is too expansive.

“Would heroin be included?” McCombie asked.

“Yes,” Ammons acknowledged.

The measure drops the criminal charge from a felony to a misdemeanor for what proponents said is a low level of possession.

“[Will] Fentanyl be included?” McCombie said.

“Yes,” Ammons said.

“Cocaine … morphine … ecstasy,” McCombie asked.

“Everything listed in the bill would be included,” Ammons said.

“So that would includes LSD, PCP, oxycodone, we are really going down a terrible path,” McCombie said.

Ammons said the measure is about ensuring people get medical treatment for drug addiction, rather than a jail cell.

“And give them true opportunity to treatment as opposed to saddling them with felony convictions that unfortunately we have to unravel later,” Ammons said.

She also noted the issue impacts those who may be frozen out of housing, education and job opportunities.

State Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, supported House Bill 3447 and said it corrects decades of wrongs by offering a path to treatment, rather than jail.

“We gotta understand that the War on Drugs was intentional and it was a failure,” Evans said. “

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, who used to prosecute drug dealing cases he said often included other offenses like gun crimes, worried the measure would benefit drug dealers.

“When someone is out there polluting neighborhoods and we don’t have the ability to charge them with what they should be charged under that situation, those are the ones that are going to get the benefit of this bill,” Durkin said.

The measure reclassifies the penalty for certain amounts of drug possession from felony to a Class A misdemeanor and is supported by the ACLU of Illinois.

“This approach not only strengthens communities across Illinois but addresses fundamental problems in our criminal legal system, rejecting decades of failed policy under the moniker of the War on Drugs,” said Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy director with the ACLU of Illinois. “We know that taking a proven public health approach to reducing harms associated with drug use will benefit everyone in the State of Illinois.”

The measure passed with 61 votes and will now be sent to the Illinois Senate.

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