illinois legalizes recreational marijuana

Legal recreational marijuana will soon be coming to Illinois after the House of Representatives voted in favor of the measure at the end of May.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who stated his intent to swiftly sign it into law having pledged to legalize marijuana in his inaugural address.

The legislation would legalize cannabis for recreational purposes, allowing adults aged 21 or older to possess, use, and buy marijuana from licensed retailers.

Illinois is the 11th U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but the first state to do so legislatively. Other states have done so through ballot initiatives, except for the legislature in Vermont which legalized possession and home cultivation, while commercial sales remain prohibited.

Proponents of the bill stress its strong focus on social equity and criminal justice reform. They also contend that its passage will refocus law enforcement’s attention on violent and property crimes, while generating revenue for public services.

“The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation,” Gov. Pritzker said in a Twitter post. “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.”

The bill allows for the state attorney general to expunge the criminal records of those with cannabis possession convictions of 30 grams or less upon consideration by the Prisoner Review Board and a gubernatorial pardon. Those with prior cannabis possession convictions for more than 30 grams but less than 500 grams would be able to petition the courts for expungement.

“The expungement remedy in the Illinois bill is truly historic. It will potentially clear the slate of over 750,000 cases, vastly exceeding any other state’s remedy on expungement for marijuana convictions,” said Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project.

“By passing legalization through the legislative process Illinois has taken huge steps towards repairing some of the damages that cannabis prohibition and the war on drugs have had on communities of color,” said Dan Linn, executive director of Illinois NORML. “This legalization bill is just one step in righting those wrongs but by no means is the end of this conversation.”

Tax revenues from cannabis sales would fund administrative costs involved in implementing the associated legal program, as well as supporting community grant programs, substance abuse centers, law enforcement operations, and general state funds.

Taxes on marijuana sales would be partly determined by THC concentration. A tax of 10 percent would be imposed on flower containing up to 35 percent THC, while products with a higher concentration would face a tax of 25 percent. Products infused with marijuana, such as edibles, would be taxed at 20 percent. A statewide sales tax of 6.25 percent would apply, and local jurisdictions would also have the ability to set an additional tax of up to 3.5 percent.

The new bill is also welcome news for existing medical marijuana patients, who are now able to cultivate up to five plants for therapeutic purposes. A previous version of the bill would have allowed home cultivation for all adults in Illinois, but this was later amended to instead decriminalize cultivation of up to five plants for non-medical marijuana patients. Home cultivation would now be punishable by a $100-$200 fine, instead of a prison sentence.

The bill seeks to support those who live in an area disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, or who suffered a criminal conviction for a now expungeable offense, through certain social equity provisions. This includes giving priority to such individuals to apply for marijuana business licenses and waiving associated fees. The bill would also create a $30 million low-interest loan program to help disadvantaged individuals seeking to start a business to cover their start-up costs.

Of these measures in the bill, Hawkins of the Marijuana Policy Project said that, “Illinois has put in place a set of equity provisions that should serve as a national model for other state legislatures grappling with how to redress the harm caused to communities targeted in the drug war.”

The new bill will take effect from January 1, 2020.

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