Illinois Senate committee OKs pot legalization bill without releasing details

SHARE Illinois Senate committee OKs pot legalization bill without releasing details

An Illinois Senate committee approved legislation Thursday to fully legalize cannabis without filing any details about the bill. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD —There are no details filed yet for a bill to legalize recreational adult-use marijuana in Illinois, but that did not stop the state Senate Executive Committee from voting on the measure Wednesday.

As it stands now, Senate Bill 7 is what is referred to as a “shell bill,” or a vehicle to be amended with substantial language in the future. The shell bill passed committee by a 12-4 vote, with all four Republicans present voting against.

“We’re going to be coming back to the committee with the full amendment,” said state Sen. Heather Steans, the bill’s sponsor. “Hopefully we’re going to file it by the end of April and we’re going to have plenty of time to hear it and debate it.”

The actual details of the bill are being negotiated privately by lawmakers, the governor’s office and cannabis industry advocates who say the existing medicinal growing market has the capacity to meet the initial demand of adult-use marijuana legalization.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget contains $170 million in projected revenue from legalization. His office has said that projection is entirely dependent on licensing fees, not tax revenue.

If those revenue projections are to be realized, fees for cultivation centers and dispensaries would have to be exponentially larger than those in the medicinal program or hundreds of new licenses would have to be granted.

Steans, a Chicago Democrat, has said the program could include additional licenses for processing and transportation of cannabis and for craft cultivation centers.

Pritzker told Capitol News Illinois in a podcast interview last week that there will have to be new entrants into the market, as well as added licensing fees for existing growers.

“Some of them will be new entrances, no doubt about it,” Pritzker said. “Some of them will be existing growers that want to get into the adult-use side of the business, but they’ll all have to pay a licensing fee to get into the business.”

But it is unclear how much those licenses would cost, how many would be granted, when they would be made available, or in which fiscal year the revenue resulting from them would be realized.

Pro-legalization lawmakers and Pritzker’s office have also said criminal justice reforms would be included in the package for those incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses.

“The legalization of adult-use cannabis will bring fairness into a criminal justice system that has been unfair in particular to people of color more often than to others,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker also said it will be important for the state to regulate potency and purity of cannabis, as it is already being purchased, potentially unsafely, on the black market in the state.

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