Illinois Proposes New Equity-Focused Marijuana Legalization Bill

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a proposal Saturday to legalize recreational marijuana statewide for people 21 and over by Jan. 1, 2020.

Illinois could legalize recreational marijuana by January 1, 2020, thanks to a new bill Gov. J.B. Pritzker touted as central to criminal justice reform.

The proposed legislation announced by Pritzker and Democratic lawmakers Saturday would allow people 21 and over to purchase recreational marijuana at a licensed dispensary in Illinois, which currently has a statewide prohibition on the drug with an exception for medical use. Residents would be able to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana and grow up to five plants at home, and nonresidents would be able to possess up to 15 grams.

Most notably, details of the plan include expunging what lawmakers estimate will be about 800,000 marijuana convictions and allow people with such convictions to work in the cannabis industry. The proposal also mentions a $20 million low-interest loan program for minority-owned businesses, promoting what the proposal calls “social equity” in a predominantly white industry.

“We are taking a major step forward to legalize adult use cannabis and to celebrate the fact that Illinois is going to have the most equity-centric law in the nation,” Pritzker said during a press conference Saturday at the Black United Fund’s office in Chicago. “For the many individuals and families whose lives have been changed ― indeed hurt ― because the nation’s war on drugs discriminated against people of color, this day belongs to you too.”

The bill, which will be filed as an amendment to Senate Bill 7, is sponsored by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy and state Sen. Heather Steans, Democrats who proposed similar measures in 2017 that eventually got knocked down under former Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican. On Saturday, Steans said legalization will create the state revenue that Illinois needs.

During his gubernatorial campaign, Pritzker made equity-centric marijuana legalization one of the most important aspects of his platform.

Pritzker said that 25% of the cannabis sales revenue will go directly into communities that have been impacted most by “discrimination in the prosecution of drug laws in the criminal justice system.” He also said 20% of the revenue will go toward supporting services related to substance abuse and mental health. About 35% will go toward the state’s General Revenue Fund, and 10% will go toward helping with Illinois’ stack of unpaid bills.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization, said the bill would elevate an “addiction-for-profit industry” that will negatively impact residents. SAM President Kevin Sabet told the Chicago Tribune that “marijuana is not inevitable.”

The legalization proposal includes plans for the Public Health Department to create educational materials for marijuana consumers to raise awareness about the potential risks of cannabis use. It also creates some restrictions on advertising, packaging and label requirements, and says warning requirements must be posted in each dispensary.

Lawmakers said the bill’s provisions won’t affect the state’s medical marijuana program, and dispensaries will be required to set aside enough product for medical use. The law would go into effect Jan. 1 of next year, though Pritzker said licenses won’t begin to be issued until next summer.

Democratic state lawmakers said Saturday that they plan to officially introduce the bill Monday. If passed, the bill would make Illinois the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana, joining neighboring Michigan and nearly all of the West Coast. Marijuana is already decriminalized in Illinois.

“For generations, government policies of mass incarceration increased racial disparities by locking up thousands of individuals for cannabis use or possession,” state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth said in a statement. “Now, as we discuss legalization, it is of the [utmost] importance that we learn from these mistakes and acknowledge the lingering effects of these policies. This bill makes equity a priority by acknowledging the importance of both economics and criminal justice in righting these wrongs.”

Read a summary of the bill Pritzker’s office provided to HuffPost here:

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