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Illinois Governor Introduces Bill to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

Illinois Governor J.B Pritzker has announced a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state. The legislation, which Pritzker unveiled Saturday in Chicago with other Democratic lawmakers, would allow for possession of up to 30 grams for residents 21 and over, and up to 15 grams for non-residents. It would also set up a system for the sale of cannabis through licensed dispensaries.

The measure will be formally introduced Monday via debate at the state legislature, where Democrats hold a majority in both chambers. If passed, the law would go into effect on January 1st, 2020, though the first licenses for growers, processors and dispensaries wouldn’t be issued until May and July 2020. If passed, Illinois would become the 11th U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana.

Illinois Governor Introduces Bill to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

A crucial element of the governor’s plan is a social-justice provision that would expunge an estimated 800,000 low-level drug convictions. Revenue generated from the state’s marijuana industry would be reinvested into communities “devastated” by the country’s discriminatory drug enforcement, thereby “righting some historic wrongs.”

“This bill advances equity by providing resources and second chances to people and communities that have been harmed by policies such as the failed ‘war on drugs,'” said Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.

The proposal includes a $20 million low-interest loan program to defray the cost of starting a licensed cannabis business for “social equity applicants,” including those who have lived in a “disproportionately impacted area” or have been arrested or convicted of expungement-eligible offenses. The bill would also allow adults to grow up to five plants per household (with permission from the landowner) in a locked room out of public view, The Chicago Tribune reports.

Recreational law would not change Illinois’ current medical marijuana program, and dispensaries would be required to designate enough supply for medical use.

The governor’s office detailed plans for routing revenue from legal cannabis: 35% would go into the state’s general operating fund; 25% would go into a new Restoring Our Communities fund, distributed as grands to communities that have “suffered the most because of discriminatory drug policies”; 20% would be for mental health and substance abuse treatment; 10% for unpaid bills; eight percent for law enforcement training grants and two percent for public drug education.

Meanwhile, advocates aren’t sold on all the provisions of the bill. While the social justice aspects are “laudable,” says Dan Linn, state executive director of Illinois NORML, the fact that the bill offers priority to current medical licensees makes some worry that they could have an unfair advantage.

“It may very well end up not achieving the desired results, because of how much of a stranglehold the current medical cannabis industry will have on the adult-use market, since the current licensees will have the ability to double their current operations before any new entrants are even licensed for the new industry,” he wrote in an email. “[Additionally,] allowing home-grow of five plants is great for consumers, but failing to lower penalties for being above the legal limit of possession may actually lead to people still being arrested for cannabis possession.”

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