Should possession of a little fentanyl, cocaine and heroin be a misdemeanor, not a felony?

  • House Bill 3447 would make possession of 3 or less grams of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine a misdemeanor in Illinois if passed.

    House Bill 3447 would make possession of 3 or less grams of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine a misdemeanor in Illinois if passed. Associated Press file photo

 
Posted10/21/2022 5:00 AM

Should Illinois join the list of states, provinces and countries decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine?

McHenry County officials don't think so, judging by what State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally and Coroner Dr. Michael Rein told a county board committee recently.

 

"As with the SAFE-T Act, the supermajorities in the House and Senate are attempting to quietly remake the criminal justice system in extreme ways that jeopardize public safety," Kenneally said in a release after the meeting.

"Decriminalizing marijuana was the first step toward legalization, and that appears to be the track Springfield is now on with fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, PCP, LSD, methamphetamines and Ecstasy. It is up to local officials, victim-groups, law enforcement, and anyone else who expects the criminal justice system to respond vigorously to deadly criminal behavior to make their voices heard."

Kenneally was referring to House Bill 3447, which would make possession of 3 or fewer grams of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine a misdemeanor.

Oregon voters did something similar through a referendum in 2020. In Canada, British Columbia is starting a three-year experiment in January, where adults who have less than 2.5 grams of opioids, methamphetamine, cocaine and Ecstasy will not be charged, unless it is found they are dealing the drugs. Portugal decriminalized personal possession and consumption of personal-amount use of drugs in 2000.

In an interview, Kenneally, a Republican, said 3 grams of heroin is an "enormous" amount and as little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl can kill a person. Last year, there were 17 fentanyl-related overdoses in McHenry County, he said.

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Over the last five years, his office has prosecuted 80 drug-induced homicide cases, he added, most involving substances containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Proponents of the bill, such as the Illinois Public Health Association and the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, say the current law, which makes possession of 1 gram or more a felony, hurts people. A statement on the association's website says people of color are more likely to be arrested and convicted on such drug charges, and that imprisoning people has failed to fix drug addiction problems.

The association advocates treating drug abuse as a public-health problem and spending more on treatment.

Kenneally, however, said that in his experience the threat of prison time has been a useful "stick" to get people to try treatment.

"Consequences are an incredibly important part of treating drug addiction," he said. If charges for personal-use amounts of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine are reduced to misdemeanors, he said, defendants will not be eligible to participate in drug-court programs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Kenneally also said it might make it more difficult to get defendants to cooperate in investigating drug trafficking.

Kenneally favors making felony possession of a small amount of drugs an expungable offense, meaning the conviction would be erased from offenders' records after a few years if they have no other arrests.

Bill status

The bill, introduced by Democratic state Rep. Carol Ammon of Urbana, passed the House in April 2021 and was assigned to the Senate's Assignments Committee. Democratic state Sen. Karina Villa of West Chicago signed on in August as a Senate sponsor. The General Assembly is due to reconvene Nov. 15 for a veto session. No committee hearings have been scheduled yet.

Congratulations

The Cook County jail's men's chess team placed third in its division in the recent Intercontinental Online Chess Championship for prisoners.

The contest featured 83 teams from jails and prisons in more than four dozen countries. Cook County hosted the tournament this year.

It was the first time women from the Cook County jail participated.

"Chess has been a part of programming in our jail for years," Sheriff Tom Dart said in a news release. "We have seen the benefits it can provide to those in custody at our facility, and I'm so glad to see that it has caught on in so many other countries."

The women's team finished third in the first day of competition.

The jail started a chess team in 2012. About 1,300 people have participated. Fourteen players represented the jail in the competition, which was sanctioned by the International Chess Federation.

Lifesaving work

Arlington Heights police officer Treston Schoeny was attending a National Night Out event at North School Park Aug. 2 when he noticed a commotion in the crowd.

Colin Connolly, 7. was choking on a piece of candy and could not breathe. Schoeny grabbed him and administered the Heimlich maneuver, dislodging the candy.

This week, Schoeny received a commendation from the village board.

Colin's family attended the ceremony, as did some of his father's co-workers. Neil Connolly is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer with the Area Port of Chicago. The CBP also gave him a thank-you letter.

"It was only because of your actions and your fellow first responders that Colin survived and was able to go home with his family that night," acting Area Port Director Kemisha Sherrell said.

The incident was captured on another police officer's body camera. You can see it at dailyherald.com.

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