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Illinois Set to Become 11th US State to Legalize Recreational Cannabis

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Jun 06, 2019   
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On Wednesday, May 29, the Illinois State Senate voted in favor of approving a bill that would legalize recreational cannabis use in the state, but with just two days until the end of Illinois’ 2019 legislative session, pressure was on the House of Representatives to approve the bill in time for the law to be brought into effect this year.

On Friday, the final day of the legislative session, the Illinois State House of Representatives voted 66-to-47 in favor of passing the bill, sending the legislation on to the office of Governor J.B. Pritzker, who has said he plans to sign the bill into law

Once he does, Illinois will become the 11th state in the nation to legalize recreational cannabis, the second state after Vermont to legalize cannabis through the actions of lawmakers instead of through a public ballot measure. However, unlike Vermont, the bill being passed by lawmakers in Illinois would also allow the commercial sale of cannabis products in the state, where the Vermont bill only legalized the use of the drug.

How will legal cannabis work in Illinois?

Starting January 1, 2020, adults in Illinois over the age of 21 will be able to legally possess and use cannabis, with the first commercial cannabis sales also starting on this date. Through January to July, the state will be also rolling out a transition timeline which should result in a smooth increase in the number of licensed cultivators, processors, and dispensaries to meet demand.

According to the text of the bill, HB 1438, Illinois residents will be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of raw cannabis, cannabis-infused products that contain no more than 500 milligrams of THC or up to 5 grams of cannabis concentrate. Non-residents of Illinois can purchase and possess up to half of these amounts.

The amount of tax applied to cannabis products in the state will directly depend on the THC content of the flower or the product. For flower or concentrate with a THC concentration of less than 35 percent, there will be a 10 percent blanket tax rate applied to all products. Flower or concentrate with a THC concentration greater than 35 percent will be subject to a 25 percent tax rate. Products infused with cannabis, such as edibles, will all be taxed at a 20 percent tax rate. 

The state’s regular 6.25 percent sales tax will also still apply to cannabis product sales, though local jurisdictions will have the power to impose additional local taxes of up to 3.5 percent. 

Revenue raised through these taxes will be used to cover the administration costs associated with implementing this cannabis legalization. Leftover funds will be distributed between community grant programs, substance abuse and mental health services, law enforcement training, and the state general revenue fund.  

In addition to legalizing recreational cannabis use and establishing a commercial cannabis market, the bill also contains a clause that will allow medical cannabis patients to cultivate up to five cannabis plants at home for therapeutic use, which must be secured and grown out of street view. 

The bill originally sought to allow home cultivation for recreational users as well as medical cannabis patients, but this was amended during debate. Instead, the bill effectively decriminalizes home cultivation for recreational users, replacing criminal proceedings and jail time with a civil infraction that carries a small $100-200 fine. 

The bill also contains sweeping criminal justice proposals, in which all criminal convictions for cannabis possession up to 30 grams will be automatically expunged through the Prisoner Review Board and a gubernatorial pardon. For convictions concerning the possession of amounts between 30 and 500 grams, the individual would be able to petition the courts for expungement. These changes could make around 770,000 cannabis-related cases eligible for expungement, according to the Illinois State Policy Advisory Council.

Does the bill do enough for social equity?

In addition to clearing previous criminal records through expungement, HB 1438 also includes the details of a social equity program, which aims to directly provide benefits to communities who have suffered because of strict cannabis prohibition. 

Specifically, the program provides financial and administrative support for eligible business applicants, as well as directly reinvesting funds from the cannabis market into the development of targeted and disadvantaged communities across Illinois. 

To qualify as a social equity applicant and receive this support, a majority of the ownership or staff of the business will have been directly impacted by cannabis prohibition, either through themselves having a previous arrest and conviction related to cannabis use, or through having ties to a community that has been disproportionately impacted by poverty and cannabis prohibition enforcement. 

Social equity applicants will receive an additional point boost in the points-based business license application system. The state will also be establishing a Cannabis Business Development Fund, which can provide low-interest loans to business start-ups that qualify as social equity applicants. Through these measures, the state hopes to give a leg up to people and businesses that originate from these historically impacted communities, supporting their innovation and business development goals. 

During the bill’s debate, there was still some concern among members of the state’s House Black Caucus that the bill did not provide enough opportunity for black-owned businesses. Though during the House floor debate, one of the caucus members, Rep. Marcus Evans, defended his own support for the bill.

“I am a black man from the south side of Chicago,” said Evans, as he addressed the House. “The war on drugs has ravaged my community and impacted my family. I’ve had trepidation, but this bill warms my heart.”

In general, the news of Illinois’ impending cannabis legalization and its criminal justice reform measures have been met with celebration from pro-cannabis campaigners.

Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, praised the bill and its provisions in a press release, saying, “the Illinois legislature has set a standard of excellence with this bill that other states seeking to pass similar legislation should follow.”

“Illinois has put in place a set of equity provisions that should serve as a national model for other state legislatures grappling with how to redress the harm caused to communities targeted in the drug war. The expungement remedy in the Illinois bill is truly historic.”

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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