Illinois Set to Become 11th State to Legalize Recreational Pot

Illinois state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, throws her fist in the air as she celebrates with Illinois state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, left, and Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, as they watch the final votes come in for their bill to legalize recreational marijuana use on Friday. (Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP)

CHICAGO (CN) – The Illinois Legislature approved a measure Friday that will legalize recreational use of marijuana, marking a victory for Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker, who made the issue a key part of his campaign platform.

“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.”

On Friday afternoon, the Illinois House voted 66-47 to approve the bill, which passed the Senate 38-17 on Wednesday.

The bill will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and will allow Illinois residents age 21 and over to legally possess 30 grams of marijuana, purchased from legal dispensaries.

Nonresidents will be able to possess 15 grams of marijuana. One marijuana cigarette, or joint, usually contains about one gram of marijuana.

The original proposal would have immediately expunged the convictions of about 800,000 people convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana, but after criticism from law enforcement and Republican lawmakers, the bill’s sponsors modified the proposal to provide that people with small drug convictions may petition the governor to have their convictions expunged.

In addition, employers will be able to have a “zero tolerance” policy for marijuana use in the workplace, home-grow of marijuana will be limited to medical marijuana users, and local governments will be able to ban marijuana use.

When Pritzker signs the bill, Illinois will become the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process rather than via a ballot initiative.

“It is time to hit the reset button on the war on drugs,” bill sponsor Representative Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said during debate on the House floor.

Other lawmakers voiced traditional fears about the impact of legalized marijuana.

Representative Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, raised an egg above his desk, saying, “You see this? This is your brain.” Then he cracked the egg in a frying pan. “There it is folks. This is your brain on drugs.”

But Representative Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, scoffed at this demonstration, and said it was a waste of an egg that would be better used “to make a soufflé or something instead of making a ridiculous point that was outdated for 30 years.”

Other legislators voiced concerns that the bill did not do enough to right the social ills caused by the war on drugs, and would result in a bonanza for big business without meaningful criminal justice reform.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx spoke in favor of the bill before the House, and supported the excised expungement provisions.

In a statement, she applauded the bill’s passage: “The failed war on drugs has disproportionately impacted communities of color, and my office will continue to explore ways to provide the broadest relief possible, beyond that provided by this legislation.”

With Illinois in dire financial straits, Governor Pritzker certainly hopes the bill will raise substantial revenues for the state, and his proposed budget already includes revenues projected to be raised from the sale of dispensary licenses.

The legalization of marijuana is expected to raise $57 million in revenue for 2020, and $30 million for a cannabis business development fund, which is intended to help minority business owners enter the marijuana industry.

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