Pubdate: Tue, 25 Jun 2019
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2019 Star Tribune


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois' new governor delivered on a top
campaign promise Tuesday by signing legislation making the state the
11th to approve marijuana for recreational use in a program offering
legal remedies and economic benefits to minorities whose lives critics
say were damaged by a wayward war on drugs.

Legalization in Illinois also means that nearly 800,000 people with
criminal records for purchasing or possessing 30 grams of marijuana or
less may have those records expunged, a provision minority lawmakers
and interest groups demanded. It also gives cannabis-vendor preference
to minority owners and promises 25% of tax revenue from marijuana
sales to redevelop impoverished communities.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, whose election last year gave Democrats complete
control over state government again after four years under GOP
predecessor Bruce Rauner, signed the bill in Chicago amid a bevy of
pot proponents, including the plan's lead sponsors, Rep. Kelly Cassidy
and Sen. Heather Steans, both Chicago Democrats.

"Today, we're hitting the 'reset' button on the war on drugs," Cassidy

Residents may purchase and possess up to 1 ounce (30 grams) of
marijuana at a time. Non-residents may have 15 grams. The law provides
for cannabis purchases by adults 21 and older at approved
dispensaries, which, after they're licensed and established, may start
selling Jan. 1, 2020. Possession remains a crime until Jan. 1, a
spokesman for Senate Democrats said.

"The war on cannabis has destroyed families, filled prisons with
nonviolent offenders, and disproportionately disrupted black and brown
communities," Pritzker said. "Law enforcement across the nation has
spent billions of dollars to enforce the criminalization of cannabis,
yet its consumption remains widespread."

On the campaign trail, Pritzker claimed that, once established,
taxation of marijuana could generate $800 million to $1 billion a
year. He said dispensary licensing would bring in $170 million in the
coming year alone. But Cassidy and Steans have dampened that
prediction, lowering estimates to $58 million in the first year and
$500 million annually within five years.

Carrying the psychoactive ingredient THC, marijuana was effectively
outlawed in the U.S. in 1937 and in the 1970s was declared a drug with
no medicinal purpose and high potential for abuse.

Blacks have been most susceptible since then to "Just say 'No'''-era
crackdowns. Pritzker quoted a 2010 statistic from the American Civil
Liberties Union that while blacks comprise 15% of Illinois'
population, they account for 60% of cannabis-possession arrests.

Peoria Democratic Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth summarized marijuana's
recent history as one where "white men would get rich and black men
would get arrested." The plan addresses those concerns with the
criminal-record scrubbing by giving preference to would-be marijuana
vendors in areas of high poverty and records of large numbers of
convictions. And 25% of tax proceeds must be reinvested in
impoverished communities, while 20% is dedicated to substance-abuse
treatment programs.

"What we are doing here is about reparations," Gordon-Booth said.
"After 40 years of treating entire communities like criminals, here
comes this multibillion-dollar industry, and guess what? Black and
brown people have been put at the very center of this policy in a way
that no other state has ever done."

Police organizations are wary, concerned about enforcing driving under
the influence laws and arguing technology for testing marijuana
impairment needs more development. Law enforcement organizations
fearing black-market impacts were successful in killing an earlier
provision that would have allowed anyone to grow up to five marijuana
plants at home for personal use. Police said they'd have difficulty
enforcing that, so the bill was amended to allow five plants to be
maintained only by authorized patients under the state's medical
marijuana law. They previously could not grow their own.

Ten other states and the District of Columbia have legalized smoking
or eating marijuana for recreational use since 2012, when voters in
Colorado and Washington state approved ballot initiatives. This year
began with promising proposals in New York and New Jersey , but both
fizzled late this spring. Despite a statewide listening tour on the
issue by Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor last winter, the idea
never took flight.

Vermont and Michigan last year were the latest states to legalize
marijuana. Vermont did so through the Legislature -- the first time it
wasn't done through a ballot initiative -- but while it allows
residents to grow small amounts for themselves, it didn't establish a
statewide distribution system like Illinois did, licensing
dispensaries. Other states license dispensaries too, but not all.

Illinois' 55 medical-cannabis dispensaries get first crack at licenses
to sell under the new law because they're proven business concerns,
Cassidy said. They may apply to dispense recreational pot at their
current stores and for a license for a second location, meaning the
state could have 110 recreational pot outlets by the time sales start
Jan. 1. In October, the application period for 75 more dispensaries
opens. No more would be allowed to open after that until the state
conducts a review of the rollout.

The bill is HB1438.
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MAP posted-by: Matt