Pubdate: Fri, 31 May 2019
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2019 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Author: Tina Sfondeles


Once Gov. Pritzker signs the bill into law, Illinois will become the
first state to approve cannabis sales through the Legislature, instead
of a ballot measure.

SPRINGFIELD - A recreational marijuana legalization bill will soon
land on Gov. J.B. Pritzker's desk after the Illinois House on Friday
voted to pass the comprehensive measure.

The Illinois House voted 66-47 after more than three hours of debate.
The Illinois Senate on Wednesday cleared the measure. The governor
issued a statement applauding the bill's passage and pledging to sign

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

While there are giant pieces of criminal justice and social equity
reforms attached to the measure - including giving a second chance to
thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession - at its most
basic level, the bill seeks to allow Illinois residents over 21 to buy
cannabis from licensed dispensaries as soon as Jan. 1.

If the bill is signed into law, Illinois will become the first state
to approve cannabis sales through the Legislature, instead of a ballot
measure. There are laws regulating and taxing cannabis in nine states.
In Vermont and Washington, D.C., cannabis possession and cultivation
is legal but sales are not regulated. Illinois would also join 10
other states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

The measure would allow Illinoisans over 21 years old to possess 30
grams, or just over an ounce, of cannabis flower, and 5 grams, or less
than a quarter-ounce, of cannabis concentrates such as hash oil.
Additionally, Illinoisans would be able to carry up to a half-gram of
edible pot-infused products.

"It is time to hit the reset button on the war on drugs," bill sponsor
state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said during the debate. "What is
before us is the first in the nation to approach this legislatively,
deliberately, thoughtfully, with a eye toward repairing the harm and
the war on drugs. We have an opportunity today to set the gold
standard for a regulated market that centers on equity and repair."

While sponsors have been working on legalization for years, efforts
were accelerated with the governor's support. During debate, Cassidy
said she had worked on marijuana reform for six years and on the
specific measure for more than two years.

State Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, had been a loud critic of the
measure, citing concerns that "big business" will harm the state's
"vulnerable." He also rounded up 60 of his House colleagues earlier in
the session to sign a resolution urging more time to debate the

"If this bill passes, a big money industry will commercialize another
harmful addictive drug in our state," Moylan said.

Others were simply scared of Illinois residents being "on drugs."
State Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, cracked an egg on a
frying pan on the House floor during debate, mimicking the famous TV
public service ad.

"This is your brain on drugs," he said, while urging a no vote.

And state Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, argued the measure is not
about criminal justice reforms: "This is about money. Period." He
argued lawmakers could have passed other measures helping minority

"I've seen what this has done to our communities," Tarver said. "This
is truly a travesty [to say] that we truly care about criminal justice

But, he said he'd vote yes on the measure - crediting Deputy Gov.
Christian Mitchell for convincing him. Mitchell was part of the
governor's team tasked with negotiating the measure.

Others weren't convinced. State Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, said
"the reset button is broken."

"The fact of the matter is nothing in this bill addresses the harm
that's been done to our community," Flowers said. "Our community is
still being used for people to make a profit and get rich and give
nothing to the community."

Amid opposition, some initiatives in the initial measure, which was
filed in early May, were scaled back. A House committee this week
approved changes that include allowing only medical marijuana patients
to have up to five plants in a home.

There were also changes made within the expungement provisions, which
would have initially automatically expunged hundreds of thousands of
marijuana possession convictions.

Now, convictions dealing with amounts of cannabis up to 30 grams will
be dealt with through the governor's clemency process, which does not
require individuals to initiate the process. For amounts of 30 to 500
grams, the state's attorney or an individual can petition the court to
vacate the conviction.

The updated language means those with convictions for cannabis
possession under 30 grams can get pardoned by the governor. State's
attorneys would then be able to petition the court to expunge the
record. A judge would direct law enforcement agencies and circuit
court clerks to clear their record. This only applies to those
convicted with no other violent crime associated with the charge. And
it only applies for convictions that have taken place when the bill
takes effect on Jan. 1.

New conflict of interest provisions were also added, which would ban
lawmakers and their family members, as well as state employees, from
being able to get a cannabis business license for two years.

Designed to address concerns about impaired driving, the measure would
also add a DUI Task Force led by Illinois State Police to examine best
practices. Those would include examining emergency technology and
roadside testing.

Sales from recreational marijuana are expected to bring in $57 million
in this year's budget and $140 million next year, sponsors have said.
It should eventually rise to $500 million a year once the program is
fully running.
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