The legalization bill only needs the governor’s signature to become law.
Illinois could become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana, as its House of Representatives have just passed a bill with a vote of 66-47. With just a signature from the governor, a statewide commercial pot industry would become a reality and marijuana-related charges would be expunged.
“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,” wrote Governor J.B. Pritzker in a statement. Pritzker won his office on a platform that promised legalization.
Advocates for the Illinois bill say that ending marijuana prohibition would be a step toward rectifying decades of racial injustice resulting from the War on Drugs.
“Prohibition hasn’t built communities. In fact, it has destroyed them,” explained Rep. Kelly Cassidy. “It is time to hit the reset button on the war on drugs.”
The bill would allow Illinois residents 21 and older to possess 30 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of concentrate, or 500 milligrams of THC if present in infused products. Non-residents are allowed to possess a maximum of 15 grams of marijuana. The bill also lays the groundwork for cultivation and dispensary licensing.
The bill will also compel Pritzker to pardon all low-level pot convictions. Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth lauded the move as the only major policy decision in her 10 years of legislating that directly aims to help minority communities.
With these charges lifted, anyone who has been bogged down with a marijuana charge now has an enormous range of employment or education opportunities re-opened to them.
“If you are wearing the scarlet letter of a conviction, you are now calcified in poverty because of a mistake,” Gordon-Booth said. “Not even a mistake, a choice.”
However, not everyone is on board. Opponents of the bill say that legalization could result in a greater rate of teenage use, more DUIs, and create potential health risks.
“If this bill passes, a giant, big-money industry will commercialize another harmful, addictive drug in our state,” said Rep. Marty Moylan.
As a compromise to earn greater bipartisan support, compromises were made. Only medical marijuana patients could possess home-grown marijuana. The bill would also allow employers to enact zero-tolerance policies against marijuana if they desired.
And any local governments would be allowed to make the call on exactly where and when marijuana businesses could operate—including simply banning them outright.
“I’m a father of three from a rural district, and I’m standing before you supporting this bill because I do not believe the current policy that we have out there right now is working,” said Rep. David Welter. “Prohibition doesn’t work, and we see that. Putting safeguards in place, taxing, regulating it, I believe provides a better market and a safer market.”
The new industry is predicted to make $57 million in general revenue in the state in the coming budget year. The revenue will first be used to pay for costs related to expunging marijuana charges, and after that 35% of the revenue will go into state funding to community grants, mental health and substance abuse programs, unpaid state bills, law enforcement and education.