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Illinois Legislature Passes Cannabis Legalization Bill

Illinois is set to be the eleventh state to legalize recreational cannabis.

A.J. Herrington

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Illinois Legislature Passes Cannabis Legalization Bill
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The Illinois House of Representatives approved a cannabis legalization bill on Friday, likely making the state the 11th to legalize possession and sales of marijuana for adults. The plan has already been approved by the state Senate and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who campaigned for office promising cannabis policy reform, said in a tweet on Friday afternoon that he is looking “forward to signing this monumental legislation.”

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

First Legislature to Legalize Pot Sales

The bill would make Illinois the first state to legalize sales of recreational pot to adults by an act of the legislature. The Vermont legislature legalized possession of cannabis last year but failed to provide a legal avenue for sales of marijuana to consumers. Cannabis possession and sales in the District of Columbia and nine other states were all approved through voter initiatives.

Under the Illinois measure, resident adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis flower, while visitors to the state would be allowed to possess up to 15 grams. The bill also legalizes possession of cannabis edibles and small amounts of concentrates. The legislation sets up a system to regulate and tax sales of cannabis products to adults through licensed dispensaries. An original provision to allow the home cultivation of up to five cannabis plants by adults was amended to apply only to medical marijuana patients at the urging of law enforcement groups.

Cannabis Taxes to Fund Social Equity Programs

Tax revenues raised through cannabis sales would initially be used to fund the expungement of approximately 770,000 past convictions for minor marijuana offenses. Tax dollars would then be used for drug treatment and enforcement programs and mental health counseling services, with the balance going to the state’s general fund.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat from Chicago and one of the bill’s sponsors, praised the social equity provisions of the measure, which also include a program to assist members of minority groups to obtain licenses to operate cannabis businesses.

“It is time to hit the ‘reset’ button on the War on Drugs,” Cassidy said. “We have an opportunity today to set the gold standard for a regulated market that centers on equity and repair.”

Cannabis Industry and Activists Praise Reform in Illinois

In an email to High Times, Ben Kovler, the CEO of Illinois-based vertically integrated cannabis company Green Thumb Industries (GTI), applauded the passage of legalization.

“This is a great day for the people of Illinois who soon will be able to exercise their right to wellness through access to safe and regulated cannabis,’ Kovler said. “The benefits of adult-use legalization are many: much-needed tax revenue, regulation to ensure safe products, criminal justice reforms to counteract the failed war on drugs, and an alternative to opioids and alcohol. GTI also applauds the efforts to promote social equity, ensure diversity and expand economic opportunity throughout the cannabis industry in this legislation.”

Steve Hawkins, the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, a cannabis reform group that helped draft the legislation, said the bill will help to correct the injustices of prohibition.

“Cannabis was at the heart of our nation’s disastrous War on Drugs. This is a measure that will improve people’s lives on a level commensurate with the devastation wrought by prohibition,” Hawkins said. “Illinois is on the brink of replacing a shameful, destructive policy with the most far-reaching cannabis law ever enacted.”

Pritzker’s office has not said when the governor will sign the bill. The legalization measure is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2020.

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