Illinois Poised To Become 11th State To Legalize Recreational Marijuana | WBEZ
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Illinois Poised To Become 11th State To Legalize Recreational Marijuana

Updated at 2:55 p.m.

Illinois is poised to be the 11th state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

The state House of Representatives approved its legalization bill 66-47 on Friday. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker, who campaigned on legalizing cannabis, quickly released a statement saying he’ll sign the legislation.

“It is time to hit the reset button on the war on drugs,” said State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago. “What is before us is the first in the nation to approach this legislatively, deliberatively, thoughtfully with an eye toward repairing the harm of the war on drugs.”

The bill would allow adults over 21 to possess and use marijuana recreationally starting next year. They’d be able to buy the drug at dispensaries that must undergo a rigorous state licensing process.

The governor has stressed that he isn’t pushing the issue as a panacea for Illinois’ vast financial woes, but it would have a significant impact. In his outline for a 2020 state budget, Pritzker banked on licensing fees for recreational cannabis yielding $170 million for the state.

“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,” Pritzker said in a statement after the House approved it. “In the interest of equity and criminal justice reform, I look forward to signing this monumental legislation.

Revenues from the program would be divvied up between the state’s main operating fund, local governments, substance-abuse programs, Illinois’ multibillion-dollar unpaid bill backlog and a grant program targeting underprivileged areas that have fallen victim to the illegal drug trade.

Friday’s vote came in the final hours of the legislature’s May 31 deadline. Three Republicans joined most Democrats to approve the bill.

Opponents, like Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, had lobbied against legalization all spring. He even had the majority of his House colleagues sign on to a resolution asking the legislature to slow down cannabis legalization.

“Big marijuana will come into Illinois and target our kids, target our poor communities and hook a whole new generation on this drug,” Moylan said. “With big marijuana, the rich will get richer and every day Illinoisans will be left to pay for it.”

Another critic of legalization, Rep. Anthony Deluca, D-Chicago Heights, cracked an egg into a frying pan on the House floor during debate, hearkening back to the old ad campaign against drugs, saying, “This is your brain on drugs.” His display drew applause from opponents and harsh criticism from supporters.

State Rep. Curtis Tarver II, D-Chicago, lambasted the idea that this bill was meant as an element of criminal justice reform.

“We’ve had 50 damn years to work on the issue. Nobody saw fit to do it,” Tarver said. “And then all of a sudden when there’s an opportunity to make money from the same people who decimated our communities, all of a sudden it’s about criminal justice reform. It’s offensive.”

Tarver voted in favor of the bill.

One big component of the bill would create a pathway for people with past marijuana convictions to have those wiped out. Anyone convicted of selling up to 30 grams of cannabis could gain executive clemency through the governor.

For convictions linked to the sale of larger amounts up to 500 grams, a state’s attorney or individuals could petition the court to have those criminal records vacated and expunged.

The legislation would allow only medical cannabis patients to have up to five plants taller than 5 inches, so long as they are kept in their homes in a locked area out of public view. Earlier versions of the bill would have let anyone grow marijuana, but that provision was stricken from the package voted on Wednesday.

The measure also would grant local communities to decide whether they want marijuana businesses within their boundaries, and it gives employers the right to decide whether they want to maintain drug-free workplaces.

Additionally, landlords would not be compelled to allow renters to use marijuana in their buildings under the legislation.

The package includes a prohibition on members of the state legislature or state employees in agencies that will regulate the cannabis industry from owning any financial stake in companies that get licensed by the state to buy or sell cannabis within a two-year period after the law takes effect.

That provision would take aim at lawmakers like state Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, D-Chicago, who is now the subject of a secretary of state investigation after reporting by WCIA-TV that she was offering paid cannabis investment seminars and was part of a company that intends to apply for a state license to grow and sell cannabis.

Illinois’ move toward legalizing the possession and use of cannabis is part of a national trend in which 10 states and the District of Columbia, so far, have allowed people to possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow them @davemckinney and @tonyjarnold.

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