Sun, 20 Oct 2019

Illinois Becomes Eleventh State to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

Voice of America
26 Jun 2019, 16:05 GMT+10

Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana Tuesday, and the first to do so through its legislature rather than a ballot initiative. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law after the legislature passed it late last month.

"As the first state in the nation to fully legalize adult-use cannabis through the legislative process, Illinois exemplifies the best of democracy: a bipartisan and deep commitment to better the lives of all of our people," said Pritzker in a statement Tuesday.

The law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020. Illinois residents above 21 will be able to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis flower, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate and 500 milligrams of THC, with non-residents able to possess half the amounts.

Those arrested for possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana will have their records automatically expunged, while Pritzker will pardon those convicted for possession. Individuals with convictions for violent crime will not be automatically eligible, though they or an attorney can still file suit to remove convictions.

Illinois estimates that 700,000 people's records will qualify for expungement. About 300,000 more will be able to file suit for convictions for up to 500 grams of the substance.

"One of the things that we wanted to make sure we accomplished with legalization was ensuring we put social equity at the center and the heart of our efforts," said state senator Toi Hutchinson in the statement. "[We're] acknowledging that while we normalize and legalize something that is happening across the country, that we tie the direct nexus to the communities that the prohibition has hurt the most."

The law also addresses communities disproportionately affected by marijuana criminalization, such as those with higher rates of poverty, unemployment and marijuana-related offenses. Termed "social equity applicants," prospective dispensary owners from these areas will be offered financial assistance and licensing application benefits. Only state-licensed businesses will be legally able to grow, process and sell the substance.

Revenue from marijuana taxes will also go toward a grant program that will "address the impact of economic disinvestment, violence, and the historical overuse of the criminal justice system," according to the press release. A further 20% of revenue will go to substance abuse treatment and prevention, as well as mental health care.

Illinois anticipates nearly $60 million in tax revenue and licensing fees in 2020, with that estimate ballooning to over $375 million in tax revenue alone in 2024. Marijuana legalization could provide a much-needed source of income for the state, which is facing a pension-driven deficit of billions of dollars. A report by Pew found that Illinois is one of seven states with less than a week's worth of operating costs in rainy day funds, while George Mason University ranked the state dead last for fiscal health.

On a federal level, marijuana remains classified as one of six illegal schedule 1 drugs, meaning it's considered to have significant potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. However, the federal government has remained lax in its enforcement thus far.

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