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Changes coming to Illinois drug charge penalties, prosecution

For quite some time, there has been a contentious dispute over drug crimes and enforcement. While some people believe that targeting drug offenders and handing down harsh punishment is an effective way to send a message and put criminals in jail, critics of the current system argue that it is racially discriminatory and putting unnecessary strain on our legal resources.

Now, Illinois lawmakers and the state's attorney's office is responding and making some powerful changes. According to recent reports, prosecution of misdemeanor marijuana charges and sentences for low-level drug offenses will look quite different going forward.

To begin with, the state's attorney will no longer be prosecuting cases against people who are charged with misdemeanor marijuana offenses. This includes people who have fewer than three previous offenses as well as non-violent and low-level offenders.

There are also changes proposed that would address other less serious drug crimes in Cook County. Reports indicate that in the future, people who are facing Class 4 felony drug possession charges could be more likely to receive treatment and rehabilitation options as opposed to the current fines and prison sentences that are often handed down.

These changes have been put into motion as a way to treat drug use as a social and health issue rather than one to be resolved by the criminal justice system. Instead of throwing every offender in jail for drug offenses and contributing to a vicious cycle of drug use, incarceration and criminal activity, prosecutorial efforts will be focused on people facing more serious charges while other offenders will have access to the support they need to deal with addiction.

Because of how significantly views on drug use -- especially marijuana -- have changed in recent years, these changes could be seen as important steps toward addressing outdated laws and sentencing requirements. For the thousands of people who face drug possession charges every year in this state, these new attitudes and priorities could certainly prove to be beneficial.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Cook County state's attorney will dismiss minor pot cases," Tony Briscoe, April 20, 2015

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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