Illinois Advances Legal Weed Sales Bill That Would Be First To Pass Via State Legislature

The measure would legalize marijuana and also allow for sweeping pardons of low-level offenders.

The Illinois Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would legalize the sale of marijuana, an effort that, if signed into law, would be the first time a state passed a comprehensive legal pot sales initiative through the legislature rather than by ballot.

The measure passed with a 38-17 vote, but would still need to pass in the Illinois House and be signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) to become law. If approved, the bill would allow residents 21 and older to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana and set other limits for cannabis products. Nonresidents could possess 15 grams of pot.

The bill also includes provisions for the governor to pardon people with low-level marijuana convictions, an addition hailed by criminal justice and legal pot advocates who called the proposal “historic legislation.”

“This bill helps people remove the stigma and harm caused by prior cannabis possession convictions and creates opportunities for those who want to enter the new, regulated program,” Steve Hawkins, the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement after the vote.

The measure, if it advances, could go into effect as early as Jan. 1, 2020.

The Chicago Tribune notes that Pritzker would have wide authority to expunge the records of past marijuana offenders. He could pardon anyone with convictions for possession, manufacturing or intent to deliver marijuana up to 30 grams as long as the crime was not associated with violence. Those convicted of crimes involving up to 500 grams could also ask to have their convictions vacated.

Illinois would be the first state to pass a comprehensive law allowing the possession, sale and growing of pot in the U.S. Vermont legalized the possession of marijuana through its legislature in 2018 but not its sale. The territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands have also passed comprehensive pot sales legislation.

The bill ultimately reflected a compromise between Illinois Senate Democrats and Republicans after some members of the GOP expressed worry over the pardon provisions. 

Pritzker has voiced his support for the measure and issued a statement urging the House to pass the bill.

“Illinois is poised to become the first state in the nation that put equity and criminal justice reform at the heart of its approach to legalizing cannabis, and I’m grateful that the Senate has taken this important step with a bipartisan vote,” the governor said in a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The bill also includes a social equity program to help small, minority business owners enter the weed market through a system of grants and loans.

Opponents of marijuana legalization have said they plan to fight the effort, calling it a blight on the public.

“Legalized and commercialized marijuana will negatively impact everything from our public safety to the health of our citizens,” Omari Prince, the director for Smart Approaches to Marijuana-Illinois, said in a statement to the Tribune. “We’ve seen in every other state that those who benefit off marijuana are wealthy investors and big business, not ordinary citizens.”

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to reflect that Illinois would be the first state in the nation to pass a comprehensive marijuana sales law through the legislature. Vermont has passed a marijuana possession law, but not a sales measure.