Illinois House Passes Plan to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

Pritzker has already said he will sign the bill, which takes effect beginning Jan. 1, 2020

Illinois will soon legalize the use of recreational marijuana.

The House on Friday passed a plan that, once signed into law, will allow Illinois residents 21 and older to legally buy marijuana from licensed dispensaries and possess any combination of: up to 30 grams (roughly one ounce) of cannabis, as much as 500 milligrams of THC in a cannabis-infused product, and up to five grams of cannabis concentrate.

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

Non-residents will be allowed to possess half the amount of each corresponding product, according to House Bill 1438, which will not allow any cannabis products to be transported across state lines.

The vote passed the House with a 66-47 vote. 

Pritzker has already said he will sign the bill, which takes effect beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

"I applaud bipartisan members of the General Assembly for their vote on this legislation," Pritzker said, "and I especially want to thank the sponsors Senator Steans and Representative Cassidy, as well as Senator Hutchinson, Senator Aquino, Leader Gordon-Booth, Representative Villanueva, the Black and Latino Caucuses, and Senator Barickman and Representative Welter for their tremendous work to make legalization a reality. In the interest of equity and criminal justice reform, I look forward to signing this monumental legislation." 

The proposal addresses the criminal justice element of marijuana legalization by allowing anyone convicted in the past of marijuana possession of 30 grams or less to have their record expunged through the governor's clemency process, which does not require individuals to initiate the process.

The bill would also allow those with a conviction of possession of between 30 and 500 grams of marijuana, or the state's attorney, to petition the court to vacate convictions on an individual basis. 

“I applaud the Illinois General Assembly for passing legislation that legalizes recreational cannabis and provides conviction relief to hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans with low-level charges of cannabis possession," Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx said in a statement. "I am proud of the role the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office played in working to advance this legislation." 

One contentious portion of the bill that evolved through negotiations was how it addresses the growth of cannabis plants in the home. The measure's Democratic sponsor Sen. Heather Steans had originally proposed allowing anyone to keep five plants in their home, but the amended version ultimately would permit only patients qualified for medicinal use of cannabis to grow their own plants, in a locked space away from public view.

The plan was approved in a bipartisan 38-17 vote in the Senate Wednesday and the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee approved it Thursday in a 13-6 vote. 

If approved, Illinois would be the 11th state in the U.S. to allow for the recreational use of marijuana. Illinois would also be only the second state after Vermont to legalize recreational marijuana without direct referendum approval from voters.

Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2012, with eight others following in the years after.

Some Illinoisans have weighed in on the issue in the past, however. In the March 2018 primary election, 68% of voters in Cook County voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana. That following November, 88% of Chicago voters approved of using marijuana revenue to increase funding for Chicago Public Schools and mental health services.

The initiative gained steam with the election of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who campaigned in part of legalizing marijuana and using the tax revenue to address Illinois' tenuous financial situation.

The proposal allocates the revenue first to pay for administrative needs and costs incurred from the expungement process, then 35% to the state's General Revenue Fund, 25% to a program to invest in minority communities impacted most negatively by cannabis prohibition, 20% to substance abuse prevention programs and mengal health services and 10% to the bill backlog, among other initiatives.

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