As the legalization of cannabis creeps slowly across the country — either for medical purposes only or for recreational enjoyment — Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) made an unanticipated announcement today that he and crucial state legislators had reached agreement on a plan to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana in the Prairie State within the next year, according to a report from ABC News.
While the bill to enable the plan still needs to clear the state legislature, the fact that both houses of the lawmaking body in the state are controlled by the governor’s fellow Democrats makes the passage of the bill all but guaranteed now that an agreement has been reached on the broad outlines of how cannabis legalization would work within the state.
The proposed legislation would give any adult resident of Illinois the right to possess up to an ounce of cannabis — non-residents would be allowed to possess up to half an ounce — that they could purchase for recreational use from licensed dispensaries.
The bill would also make up for some of the damage done by the state’s previous criminalization of marijuana possession by expunging some convictions related to possession of the substance.
Once the bill is passed, Illinois would become the tenth state in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The governor’s office anticipates that the bill could take effect as early as January 1st, 2020 but doesn’t expect any licenses to be issued to growers, processors, and dispensaries until about six months after that.
While discussions of cannabis legalization have taken place in state government corridors for several years now, the new agreement on the parameters of the state’s system would work means that the end of pot prohibition is in sight for the state’s residents.
In making the announcement, Governor Pritzker declared that the proposed law was the first step in “righting some historic wrongs” against minority communities that have disproportionately suffered from discriminatory enforcement of drug laws.
“This bill advances equity by providing resources and second chances to people and communities that have been harmed by policies such as the failed ‘war on drugs,'” said the state’s African American Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton.
According to ABC News:
The measure includes a $20 million low-interest loan program to help defray the costs of starting a licensed cannabis business for “social equity applicants.” Those applicants would include people who have lived in a “disproportionately impacted area” — or communities with high rates of poverty and high rates of arrest and incarceration for marijuana offenses — or been arrested or convicted of offenses eligible for expungement.
These “social justice” provisions in the proposed law not only help the people and communities most affected by the draconian drug laws of eras past but prevent the industry from being dominated by large corporate interests as has been seen beginning to take place in some states that have already legalized weed.
While Illinois has already passed laws allowing the use of cannabis for medical purposes, the state is looking for the tax revenue that a more robust recreational market can generate, judging from the experiences of other states that have already begun thriving legal recreational cannabis markets.
Governor Pritzker is anticipating that the state could take in around $170 million in licensing fees from the new industry with 35% of the revenue going to the state’s general operating fund, and 25% going into a new Restoring Our Communities fund that would be distributed as grants to communities that “have suffered the most because of discriminatory drug policies.”
Unpaid state financial obligations would be retired with another 10% of the cannabis-related revenue with the remaining 30% allocated for mental health and substance abuse treatment, law enforcement grants and public education and awareness.
2020 looks like it will be a great year for stoners in the Land of Lincoln.
Illinois residents can express their thanks to the Democratic politicians who brokered the final deal to end the existing obsolete drug policies by ensuring that Democrats retain control of state offices in the next election and by returning Democrat Dick Durbin to the Senate in the 2020 election. Oh yeah, and while you’re at it, vote for whichever Democrat manages to win the nomination to fight Trump in the presidential contest.
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Original reporting by Sara Burnett at The Associated Press.