Illinois legislature finally breaks through legalization debate: Recreational Cannabis is Coming


From Bill Hutchinson of ABC News, legalization of marijuana has successfully made it through the state legislature and is now awaiting the approval signature from Governor J. B. Pritzker, who is certainly going to sign it. Illinois is unique not in that it is legalizing recreational cannabis(they will be the 11th state to do so, making recreational cannabis legal in over 20% of the country) but because they will be the first state to enact legalization through its legislature, as the other 10 states did it through ballot initiative. Either way, legal weed is coming as the bill(HB 1438) passed through the House of Representatives by a majority of 66-47.

My favorite part of the bill, which I have noted multiple times throughout this entire process, is the expungement policy baked in. Under this new bill, Illinois residents convicted for small amounts of possession can petition the state if the crime they were convicted for wasn’t associated with any violent act. An estimated 770,000 citizens will likely be able to have their records expunged under this new rule, and that is a positive impact on an enormous amount of people. It’s easy to be cynical about politics, but we have to recognize when some good can finally come from it, even if it seems these policies should’ve been put in place years ago.

As the article notes, past and present Marijuana convictions disproportionately affects minority communities, as systemic racism still runs rife throughout Illinois law enforcement and Illinois court systems. So, the bill should be also be a small step toward social justice, something we desperately need in these unjust times. Here’s some more about the ins and outs of the bill from Hutchinson:  “Under the proposed law, Illinois residents 21 and older, beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, will be able to legally possess up to 30 grams of cannabis — a little more than an ounce — and will be able to purchase it from licensed marijuana dispensaries (currently there are only medical dispensaries and 22 state-licensed cultivation centers). Non-residents of Illinois will be permitted to possess about half the amount of weed than residents will be allowed to possess.” So, naturally you have to still be 21 to be able to purchase cannabis and non Illinois residents visiting the state cannot purchase the same amount as Illinois residents.

Obviously the financial impact on the state’s coffers was always going to come into play, and it does play a big factor in this bill passing. Pritzker believes that in the first year of legalization alone, the State could bring in 170 million dollars in revenue. This large amount is likely even larger because legal cannabis will also be heavily taxed, as expected. A 10% tax will be placed on purchases of products that contain less than 35% of THC, but the tax could go all the way up to 25% if purchasing products with higher doses of THC. Obviously it is still illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis, like alcohol. You also cannot consume cannabis in public areas.

In a lot of ways, one of the persons we most have to give a big thank you to for this bill passing is the democratic senator Kelly Cassidy who has been a long time crusader for legalization and this bill in particular. In April she sat down with NPR to talk about potential legalization and this blog covered that interview here. Here’s what she had to say about the bill passing per the article: “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. 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.” This is a thoughtful well crafted statement that rings true, as the failed War on Drugs has had disastrous consequences for thousands of communities across the country.

There were a few naysayers obviously in the House who believe that legalization will hurt communities but frankly I don’t feel the need to cover the objections too thoroughly because 1) their crusade was about the battle to control the bodily autonomy of others and put more people into an already overcrowded prison system, not protect communities. And 2) because they lost, and the battle is over. Legalization is coming whether they like it or not, and we should all be thankful for that. Here is the Bill in totality.

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