Illinois Moves Closer to Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

If the measure passes the House and is signed into law, it would take effect beginning Jan. 1, 2020

Illinois may soon legalize the use of recreational marijuana.

The state Senate passed a plan Wednesday that would 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.

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

If it passes the House and is signed into law, the measure would take effect beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

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. 

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 Senate ultimately passed an amended version permitting 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 now heads to the House, where negotiations continue.

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 Senate-passed 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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