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Illinois’ Equity-Centric Approach to Recreational Marijuana Is Worth Watching

Equity-Centric Legalization Wins in Illinois
Photo by Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

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Illinois’ Equity-Centric Approach to Recreational Marijuana Is Worth Watching

Illinois takes on adult-use cannabis legalization with an eye towards racial and social justice.

Illinois managed to accomplish what New York and New Jersey failed to do this year: It legalized marijuana for adult-use.

Well, at the time that this article was being typed out Gov. J.B. Pritzker had not officially signed the bill into law. But both the House of Representatives and the Senate handed down approval for the measure last week, and the word on the street is that Pritzker — who vowed to legalize weed as soon as he took office — is expected to grace the bill with his signature soon.

And more than just legalizing marijuana for recreational use, something that 10 other states have also achieved, the movement in Illinois is now being hailed as one of the most progressive pieces of marijuana reform to come to fruition.

Unlike other marijuana-related measures to come before it, the bill looks to repair the communities tossed face down in a puddle of disenfranchisement and despair over the years, thanks to prohibition.

Restitution for the War on Drugs

It is a package that includes the expungement of some pot offenses, as well as one designed to provide licensing opportunities for those areas most affected by the drug war. This is a more progressive different take on marijuana legalization in the United States, especially compared to any of the other pot laws slapped on the books on a statewide level. It could eventually become a blueprint for how the entire nation moves into a post-prohibition state of mind.

“The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation,” Pritzker posted to Facebook. “This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance.”

OK, sounds great, but what exactly does this mean?

For starters, the bill comes with a provision designed to clear the criminal convictions of pot offenders that do not have a history of violence. At its most basic level, this part of the law will clear those people who were busted for personal pot possession. But the measure goes a step further by forgiving those records of people convicted of the cultivation of cannabis (manufacturing) and those with blemishes for “intent to deliver.”

This means that while cannabis users caught up in the criminal justice system will catch a break as the result of legalization, so will a lot of those that have been operating in the illicit drug trade. The only downside to this provision is people must petition the courts for expungement as opposed to having those records automatically cleaned. All in, however, as many as 770,000 Illinois pot offenders could be forgiven as a result.

The other aspect of the social equity plan is intended to give oppressed communities a chance to thrive in the business of weed. This is one aspect that seemed to jam up New York and New Jersey while they were trying to pass a similar measure.

Lawmakers just couldn’t seem to agree on the lengths that such a provision should go before it was deserving of their support. But for Illinois, the task was relatively easy — lawmakers set a definition for the “social equity applicant,” give them advantage marks for falling into this category and then open up a taxed and regulated marijuana market. It’s not rocket science.

Whose Equity Is It, Anyway?

The law defines a social equity applicant as an Illinois resident that has lived in a “disproportionately affected neighborhood” for the last five years. These people are automatically given 25 points out of the required 200 when it comes to the cannabis business licensing process. The same goes for those individuals who get their criminal records expunged. The system is set up to give former street dealers a fighting chance at becoming part of the cannabis trade as it enters legitimacy.

To top it off, part of the state’s marijuana taxes will be allotted to help salvage those communities beaten down by prohibition. The bill indicates that 25% of the revenue will be invested in rebuilding the communities most affected by the racist law enforcement scourge of the past few decades.

The hope is that all of these aspects working in conjunction with one another will help ease the burden that has been created due to the misguided policies instilled back when President Nixon was in office.

“Decades of prohibition hasn’t stopped use, prohibition hasn’t made us safer. Prohibition hasn’t built communities — in fact, it has destroyed them. Prohibition hasn’t created jobs, in fact, it has prevented people from finding work,” Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who was part of the crew that drafted the bill, said in a statement. “Ending prohibition will allow us to bring this out of the shadows. Impose reasonable and thoughtful regulation and bring assurance of a tested and safer product.”

As for the rest of Illinois’s pot smoking civilization, the new law is pretty cut and dry. Adults 21 and older can possess a little more than an ounce of weed and they can purchase it from their neighborhood dispensary. The law clearly indicates that non-residents can also take part in the fun. The only caveat is there could be savage legal repercussions if the cops in a state like Indiana happen to catch a motorist smuggling pot into their weedless domicile of mustached justice.

Strangely, the law only allows medical marijuana patients to get into home cultivation — so, be sure to buddy up with one of these people soon.

It is also important to remember that while marijuana is not fully legal until the beginning of next year, small time pot possession was decriminalized in the Land of Lincoln a few years ago. Anyone busted today with 10 grams or less is simply slapped with a $200 fine. Around 30 grams, however, is a misdemeanor offense punishable with up to a year in jail and fines reaching $2,500.

So, until the new law takes effect, it is well-advised to travel the state with only small amounts. Illinois cops could be looking for gun-jumping marijuana fanatics from now until January.

TELL US, does your state have any equity measures in place? 

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