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With the nation's cannabis laws changing every time you turn around, it can be hard to keep track of where marijuana is legal, and in what capacity. For Illinois residents, it's important to remember a few basics. Recreational cannabis is illegal, medical cannabis is allowed if you're a member of the state's program, and you're more likely to get a fine than jail time if you're caught with a small amount of cannabis.

Illinois Cannabis Laws

At time of writing this the only legal way to smoke cannabis is to be part of the state's medical marijuana program, which will issue you a card to show authorities in the event you are confronted. This program has been slated to run through 2018, and may last longer depending on the results and the legislature.

What constitutes a crime in Illinois when it comes to cannabis? Everything! This cannot be emphasized enough; while marijuana is completely legal in states like Washington and Colorado, Illinois is still very much against cannabis in all but the most narrow of circumstances. That means possession of cannabis, growing cannabis, the sale or trafficking of cannabis, hash and concentrates, and even the selling or possessions of paraphernalia used when smoking marijuana are all illegal, and punishable by jail time and/or fines.

In some states those things would constitute business expenses. In Illinois, it's a good way to close doors to future opportunities by getting a criminal record.

Change is Happening… But Slowly

With all of that said, Illinois is not an unyielding, draconian state where there's no hope of change for the better. Those making and maintaining Illinois' laws are watching the changes going on in the country, and they're reading the same research every other state government is. They're weighing the pros and cons when it comes to changing the penalties for cannabis, and the wheels have started to move on the subject.

Medical marijuana is one example, but it's only the most visible example of the state's concession to the realities of cannabis in today's world. There have been other, slow changes happening, too. For example, Illinois is considered one of the more lenient states when it comes to possession of marijuana, and particularly possession for first-time offenders. The state has also been moving more toward a fine-based model when it comes to marijuana crimes, treating it the same way other states would traffic tickets. Which would mean that marijuana is still illegal, but that getting caught smoking it without being a part of the state's medical marijuana program wouldn't have jail time attached to it.

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Cynical people would point out that lets Illinois have it both ways. Marijuana offenses stay on the books, letting the state tout that it's still tough on drugs.

On the other hand, moving to a fine-based punishment system means the state is still bringing in new revenue, unclogging its criminal justice system, and making sure those who are caught with a non-violent drug offense don't have jail time as a black mark on their permanent record.

On the other hand, that strategy is definitely a half-measure, as it doesn't reduce the amount of money generated by an illegal enterprise, and it doesn't net the state the kinds of benefits genuine legalization would have.

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Even glacial progress is still progress, though. It seems as if even states with staunch anti-marijuana attitudes have been watching the great legalization experiment, and realized that the doom and gloom predictions aren't coming true. Worse, legalization seems to have long-term benefits for states culturally and financially. So, while cannabis remains illegal in Illinois for now, there are many people who predict it's only a matter of time until that changes.

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