Illinois lawmakers pass marijuana legalization

Illinois lawmakers pass marijuana legalization

A bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois is en route to the highest office in the state.

Illinois is set to become the 11th state to allow its residents to use cannabis with or without a medical marijuana card.

On May 31, the Illinois House of Representatives passed House Bill 1438 by a 66-47 vote, with two lawmakers voting “present.”

The House may now send the bill to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a vocal supporter of marijuana legalization.

HB 1438 would allow all Illinois adults aged 21 and older to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana. Those using marijuana for medical purposes would be allowed grow marijuana at home. But recreational users would still be banned from growing.

The bill also includes expungement provisions for those arrested for marijuana possession prior to decriminalization. People convicted for possession of under 30 grams of marijuana prior to legalization – as long as those convictions were not associated with a violent crime – would have their records referred to the state’s Prisoner Review Board and then to Gov. J.B. Pritzker for a pardon. If the governor grants the pardon, the Illinois attorney general would then seek expungement. Those convicted for between 30 to 500 grams would have the option of petitioning for expungement themselves. Local state’s attorneys could also pursue expungement for those convictions on a case by case basis.

“The most historic aspect of this is not just that it legalizes cannabis for adults but rather the extraordinary efforts it takes to reduce the harm caused by the failed war on marijuana and the communities it hurt the most,” state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, said during a Senate floor debate, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

As of June 30, 2017, 372 people were serving prison sentences on cannabis charges in Illinois, and 360 on parole, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections’ Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report.

The bill would also create a system of licensure for those looking to cultivate and dispense marijuana in the marketplace, but not without heavy startup costs. On top of a $100,000 application fee, dispensaries would pay a Cannabis Business Development Fee amounting to the lesser of 5% of the company’s total annual sales or a flat $750,000 – “but at not less than $250,000.”

State law has allowed Illinoisans to possess small amounts of marijuana without criminal penalty since July 2016, when Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law Illinois’ decriminalization bill, which automatically expunged civil citation records of anyone charged with possessing 10 or fewer grams of marijuana before that law.

If the House advances and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs HB 1438, Illinois would become the 11th state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana, and the second in the Midwest. In 2018, Michigan voters approved a referendum to legalize marijuana.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has long advocated for marijuana legalization, suggesting a strong likelihood the governor is prepared to greet HB 1438 with his signature should it reach his desk.

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