The Illinois Senate voted to approve a bill to legalize marijuana on Wednesday, with just two days left to get the legislation to the governor’s desk before the current session ends.
The bill would allow adults 21 and older to consume, possess and purchase certain amounts of cannabis for personal use, and seeks to create a legally regulated system of marijuana production and sales.
It also contains several provisions aimed at promoting social equity in the legal industry, including expunging the records of individuals with convictions for marijuana possession of 30 grams or less and allowing the state’s attorney or individuals to petition the courts for possession cases involving 30 to 500 grams of cannabis.
Cannabis flower with less than 35 percent THC would be taxed at 10 percent, cannabis-infused products would be taxed at 20 percent and marijuana products with more than 35 percent THC would be subject to a 25 percent tax. That would be on top of the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax, and local jurisdictions could also impose an additional 3.5 percent tax.
Revenue would pay for implementation costs of the legal cannabis program, and would also go toward community grant programs, substance abuse centers, law enforcement efforts and the general state fund.
The Senate passed the bill in a 38 to 17 vote, sending it to the House.
“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, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said
Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who campaigned on a pro-legalization platform, has been working with lawmakers to craft legislation that emphasizes the importance of righting the wrongs of prohibition by supporting communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
Long-awaited initial details about the proposal were announced earlier this month.
In the weeks
However, the bill effectively decriminalizes low-level cultivation, making it so a non-patient who grows five or fewer plants is not treated with jail time and would instead receive a civil infraction that carries a fine of up to $200.
Dan Linn, executive director of Illinois NORML, told Marijuana Moment that the revisions represent a “reasonable compromise in order to pass this bill as the legislative session comes to a close.”
“It is not perfect, but it is better than the status quo and allows adults to legally purchase, consume and, in some instances, grow cannabis,” he said. “There is still work to be done once this passes, but for now this is the best that Illinois can do.”
People who have lived in a location designated as a “disproportionately impacted area” for a certain amount of time, or who has been convicted of an offense that would be eligible for expungement, can qualify as social equity applicants for cannabis business licenses. That status would entitle people for extra points on licensing applications and fee waivers.
Separately, the bill would establish a $30 million low-interest loan program to help offset some of the startup costs associated with launching a new marijuana business for those applicants.
“We’re going to set the gold standard of how diverse an industry we can create,” Heather Steans (D), the proposal’s sponsor, said on the floor prior to the vote.
If all goes according to plan, the state’s legal marijuana program would take effect on January 1, 2020. Current medical cannabis dispensaries would have an advantage in terms of applying for licenses, and new dispensaries would receive their licenses by May 1. Processors, craft growers and transporters would be licensed by July 1.
“While the concessions to the current industry may very well undermine the social equity components for getting more diversity in ownership of the new industry, this legislation offers an end to cannabis prohibition—something that needs to happen as soon as possible,” Linn said.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Senate Executive Committee approved the revised language of the legalization proposal in a vote of 13 to 3.
During that panel’s hearing, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce announced that it was shifting its position on the legislation from opposed to neutral.
The Senate vote comes four months after the governor touted legalization in his inaugural address and three months after he included revenue from his legalization plan in a budget proposal. Pritzker said that regulating marijuana sales would “create jobs and bring in $170 million in licensing and other fees.”
A separate analysis from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute projected much higher gains: 24,000 jobs, over $500 million in tax revenue and an infusion of about $1 billion into the state economy overall by 2020.
While Pritzker said that he wanted to implement a legal cannabis system “right away” after he was elected in November 2018, that plan has taken longer to materialize. But with the bill’s Senate passage and just days left before the close of the legislative session, it seems that the governor will soon have the opportunity to make good on his campaign pledge.