Bill Legalizing Recreational Marijuana Passes Illinois House

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Illinois lawmakers gave final approval Friday to a marijuana legalization bill. On the final day of the legislative session, state representatives voted 66-47 to send the bill to the governor’s desk. Gov. JB Pritzker, who campaigned on a promise to legalize weed, has said he plans to sign the bill.

The legalization of adult use and possession would take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, making Illinois the 11th state to legalize the recreational use and commercial sale of cannabis and the first where lawmakers have passed such a law allowing the commercial sale of recreational marijuana. Other states to do so have passed voter-approved referendums.

The bill allows residents aged 21 and over to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana. Local governments could ban cannabis shops or place zoning restrictions on where they could be located. Medical marijuana patients would be able to grow up to five plants at home. Business would still be able to test employees for drugs and maintain zero tolerance workplace policies, but the bill would allow the governor’s office to expunge the criminal records of those convicted of offenses involving up to 30 grams of cannabis.

Supporters say prohibition has failed. Legalizing weed, according to chief sponsor Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, will cut down on illegal sales and make marijuana less accessible to minors.

“This is a beginning,” Cassidy said, urging her colleagues to support the bill. “It’s the beginning of the end of the war on drugs. The beginning of us finally having rational conversations about cannabis and of working together to approve this policy.”

Cassidy has said the bill creates the “gold standard for a regulated market that centers equity and repair,” in addition to clearing criminal records and promoting equity in an attempt to alleviate the negative impacts of decades of cannabis prohibition in minority communities. Once the commercial market matures, Cassidy anticipates the program will bring in $500 million.

The bill lays out a framework for dividing up tax revenue brought in by the program. After covering the cost of the expungement program, 35 percent would go to the general fund, 25 percent to a community reinvestment grant program, 20 percent for mental health and substance abuse services, 10 percent to cover the backlog of state bills, 8 percent to local law enforcement and 2 percent to public education and safety campaigns.

The Illinois Senate passed an amended version of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, House Bill 1485, on Wednesday evening by a vote of 38-17. Late Thursday evening, the House Judiciary Criminal Committee voted 13-6 to send the vote to the full House, where Democrats have a 74-44 supermajority. Sixty votes were required for passage.

In the final House vote, two members voted present — Democrat Rep. Camille Lilly and Republican Rep. Michael McAuliffe, both from Chicago. Speaker Michael Madigan did not vote, nor did fellow Democrats Bob Rita of Blue Island and Carol Ammons of Urbana.

During debate, opponents of the bill raised questions over the commercialization of the cannabis industry, how police would operate under the legalization scheme and increased use by teens and motorists. Those opposed warned of increased traffic deaths, mental illness, crime and extra costs to individuals and society.

The bill had bipartisan support and opposition in the chamber. Two Republicans, Rep. David Weller of Morris and Rep. Allen Skillicorn of East Dundee, signed on as co-sponsors. Des Plaines Democrat Rep. Marty Moylan led an effort to block the bill’s passage.

Several other Democrats spoke in opposition to the bill, such as Rep. Anthony DeLuca of Chicago Heights, who resurrected the Reagan-era slogan, “This is your brain on drugs” as he cracked an egg into a frying plan on the House floor.

Rep. Mary Flowers, a Chicago Democrat, said nothing in the bill addresses the drug war’s harm to communities of color, adding that it would only serve to enrich those who are already rich.

“I have lived through the war on African-American families, I have lived through the ordeals of the war on poverty and I also live through the so-called war on drugs. And it’s been hell and none of it worked,” Flowers said. “Everybody knew that the war on drugs was purposely done to get the outcome in which it got in order so other people can create jobs for themselves. They made the prison system longer, bigger and more devastating to our community.”

Decauter Democrat Rep. Sue Scherer said her constituents, as well as doctors and law enforcement associations, have shared their worries about the bill.

“At the end of the day, there are just too many unaddressed concerns that, perhaps, someday if all these could be figured out and taken seriously, we could take a vote on it. But why it has to be today is beyond me.” Scherer said. “Unless we can take everybody’s concerns seriously, I don’t feel that it’s fair when we say, ‘This group of people’s concerns count and we’ll answer them,’ [but] ‘This group of peoples’ concerns don’t agree with how I feel so they’re not going to be answered. They’re just going to be blown off and told there’s research on the other side to offset it.”

Parkhurst, one of the trio of Republicans who voted in favor of the measure, released a statement after the bill’s passage. She said she was one of few Republicans to take a seat at the table drafting the bill to get more local control and revenue, better taxpayer and substance abuse protections and stronger public safety protections.

“Will there be problems? Absolutely. But, we face many of those same problems now and we are facing them without appropriate regulation, resources, or revenue,” Parkhurst said. “Cannabis prohibition is simply no longer working. The illicit market is too large to successfully repress. The choice is not whether to make cannabis available, but whether its production and use should be legal and regulated or illegal and unregulated.”

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who publicly called for cannabis legalization in January and testified at Thursday’s committee hearing, said she was proud of the role of her office played in bringing the legislation to the governor’s desk.

“As prosecutors who implemented these convictions, we must own our role in the harm they have caused and we should play a role in reversing them,” Foxx said in a statement after House passage of the bill. “The failed war on drugs has disproportionately impacted communities of color, and my office will continue to explore ways to provide the broadest relief possible, beyond that provided by this legislation.”

Pritkzer said he was looking forward to signing the bill “in the interest of equity and criminal justice reform,” according to a statement released after the vote.

“The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation,” the governor said. “This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance.”

Earlier: Marijuana Legalization Passes Illinois Senate, Heads To House

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