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Illinois Could Be Days Away From Legalizing Cannabis

Cannabis Legalization Illinois
Photo Teresa Grau Ros


Illinois Could Be Days Away From Legalizing Cannabis

A bill that would legalize adult-use cannabis in Illinois has cleared the hurdle in the State Senate and now heads to the House.

With the legislative session winding down, the Illinois Senate has passed a law that would regulate and tax adult-use cannabis, making the state the first in the nation to set up a legal cannabis marketplace through the legislature. (Vermont was the first to pass cannabis legalization through the legislature and not through the ballot, but did not set up a marketplace.)

The bill has now been sent to the Illinois House, where it has only two days to pass before the session ends.

If the bill makes it to the governor’s desk, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has pledged repeatedly that he is in support of legal cannabis, so he is almost certainly on board to sign the bill, as it is a part of his coalition effort to bring the cannabis reform effort to pass.

The bill, championed by State Senator Heather Steans of Chicago, would make it legal for adults over the age of 21 to purchase and use cannabis in Illinois. The bill marks continuing progress in Illinois, moving on from the success of decriminalization the state has seen since 2016. In 2011, Chicago police arrested 21,000 people for marijuana offenses, but in 2017, that number dropped to 129, which is less than 1% of the 2011 number.

Steans said in a statement following the Senate’s passage of The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act that it will also include the most comprehensive restorative justice measures of any state that has legalized cannabis, seeking to combat the disproportionate harm prohibition caused to minority communities.

“Prohibition is not working. It’s time to come up with a better policy,” Steans said. “This plan keeps our children safe by prioritizing public safety, includes extensive restorative justice measures and brings in much-needed revenue for our state.”

If the bill passes the house, on January 1, adults in Illinois will legally be able to purchase up to 30 grams of cannabis flower, five grams of concentrates and 500 milligrams of cannabis-infused products. These things won’t actually be available on New Year’s Day though. As seen in many other states, the regulatory hoops usually take a bit of time to design, nevermind jump through.

Cannabis Equity in Illinois

As for helping the victims of Illinois’s War on Drugs get their lives back together, a lot of it will happen automatically under the plan. Anyone with a conviction involving less than 30 grams will likely have their records automatically expunged down the line. People who were convicted with 30-500 grams will be able to petition the courts to vacate their convictions.

The bill also puts forward a plan on what will happen with the money generated by cannabis legalization. A lot of it will go to communities hit the hardest by discriminatory drug laws by creating the “Recover, Reinvest and Renew Program (R3)” to distribute the money through grants.

According to the bill’s text, those grants will directly address the impact of economic disinvestment, violence and the historical overuse of police responses to community and individual needs by providing resources to support local design and control of community-based responses to these impacts. One of the biggest goals will be reducing gun violence. Last year, Chicago saw 561 homicides.

The tax surplus money will also be distributed through a bunch of other programs and funds. Two percent will go to education and safety campaigns. Eight percent will go to law enforcement to use prevention and training. A quarter of the extra funds will go back into the R3 program. The majority of the funds will go to programs that address preventative substance abuse programs and mental health services and the state’s General Revenue Fund.

Advocates are excited about the progress, despite the tough timelines for the bill’s passage.

“This is just one step of many in ending cannabis prohibition,” said Dan Linn, the executive director of Illinois NORML in a statement following the bill’s victory in the State Senate. “Even after this bill passes, there will still be work to do to give adults in Illinois access to cannabis without having to purchase it from a limited amount of stores and cultivators.”

One of the goals to solve those access issues is to lower the bar for entry allowing for more competition that would benefit both small businesses and consumers.

“The barriers to entry into this marketplace will only continue to expand the problems of the wealthy being able to profit from this new opportunity while others with fewer resources are unable to move from the illegal to the legal marketplace in terms of growing and selling this product,” said Linn.

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