Greater St. John’s pastor thinks it’s time to “decriminalize it” concerning marijuana enforcement laws.  

During an April 15 interview on iheart radio, Rev. Ira Acree expressed support for the mandatory decriminalization bill currently before the General Assembly. 

If approved, House Bill 5708 — co-sponsored by state representatives LaShawn Ford (8th) and Kelly Cassidy (14th) — would change the statewide handling of marijuana arrests. Fines versus jail time would be the penalty for offenders carrying small amounts of pot. 

According Acree, first-time possession offenses should warrant a fine, with subsequent offenses resulting in both community service and treatment. The bill would also make it easier for an offender to clean up his/her record of a minor possession arrest. 

“Right now, the laws are set up to place a person caught in the possession of marijuana in jail…It can take months or even years to expunge the arrest from their record, and that impacts their economic prospects in the future,” Acree said. 

HB 5708 would, among other provisions, make the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana a “regulatory offense” only punishable by a fine of up to $100. Under current law, carrying small quantities of the drug — 2.5 grams, for example — is a criminal offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. The bill would also make it easier to expunge a possession arrest from a person’s record.

Ford, however, says the bill remains a tough sell in Springfield.

“Some are concerned about the backlash they may face from their constituents, or that support for the bill may be viewed as an amnesty for drug offenders,” Ford says, adding that this issue needs addressing given how the impact it has on communities. 

Ford noted alarming statistics showing that black men are six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white males. 

The bill, Acree added, would end what he calls “prohibitionist policies” against marijuana possession that targets mainly poor people and communities.

“I’m not taking a moral stance on the subject of marijuana use. I am only speaking for the penalty for people in communities of color, which I believe is too high,” Acree said.