Governor of Illinois Reveals Plan to Legalize Recreational Cannabis

The proposal includes loan program for cannabis entrepreneurs from heavily policed neighborhoods.
Governor of Illinois Reveals Plan to Legalize Recreational Cannabis
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Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker ran on a pro-pot platform and made cannabis legalization a priority when elected to office last year. Now, it seems like he may be making good on his promises to voters; local news channel WQAD 8 reports that on Saturday in Chicago, Pritzker announced that he’s “reached an agreement with key lawmakers” on a measure that would make it legal for adults 21 years and up to purchase marijuana.

If approved by policy makers, Pritzker said the plan could go into effect by the beginning of next year, with licenses issued to growing operations, processing sites, and dispensaries by May to July of 2020.

He said that debate will be opened in the state legislature on the measure starting Monday.

The plan also includes proposals to alleviate the negative effects that decades of the Drug War have left on some of Illinois’ most vulnerable communities. Low interest loans would be provided to cannabis entrepreneurs who are or who have been residents of neighborhoods that suffered from elevated levels of cannabis policing, via a proposed $20 million program. Also eligible for the financial boost would be individuals who have certain kinds of cannabis-related offenses on their criminal record — and many of those would be eligible for automatic expungement via Pritzker’s plan.

“This bill advances equity by providing resources and second chances to people and communities that have been harmed by policies such as the failed ‘war on drugs,'” commented Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, who joined a group of other Illinois lawmakers in attendance at Pritzker’s announcement.

There is also a plan for the expected $170 million windfall that opening up the recreational industry could pull in licensing fees for the state. The governor’s office explained that of this sum, 35 percent would go to Illinois’ general operating plan, and another 25 percent to a “Restoring Our Communities” fund — again, to aid communities that experienced hardship during cannabis prohibition, or in the words of the governmental office, “have suffered the most because of discriminatory drug policies.” 10 percent would go to pay past expenses incurred by the state, and the remainder to programs that provide mental health aid, addiction treatment, law enforcement, and educational campaigns.

The plan is not the only proposal that has been fielded by the Illinois House of Representatives this year when it comes to regulating adult use marijuana. In January, House Bill 902 (which would allow for adults to cultivate up to 24 plants at home) was introduced. That bill has picked up new co-sponsors and seen steady movement over the last few months, and would send 30 percent of state tax from cannabis sales to school funding.

Should lawmakers prove amenable to the legalization measure, Illinois will have to greatly expand the number of cannabis growers who are currently producing marijuana for the state’s medical program. A report released in March found that current growers’ output would only meet 35 to 44 percent of the recreational market’s demands.

Illinois politicians first approved a pilot medical marijuana program in 2013, which is set to last through mid-2020 in its current form. Last year, lawmakers voted to expand access to the program to people suffering from opioid addiction.

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