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Madigan: Parts of legal pot bill ‘very controversial’ — passage ‘not guaranteed’

House Speaker Michael Madigan speaks Monday to students in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois Springfield. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Lindsey Salvatelli)

SPRINGFIELD – A 532-page proposal to legalize adult-use cannabis in Illinois by Jan. 1, 2020 was filed in the state Senate Monday, but House Speaker Mike Madigan said its passage is “not guaranteed today.”

Amendment 1 to Senate Bill 7, carried by Chicago Democratic state Sen. Heather Steans, allows Illinois residents to possess 30 grams of cannabis, five grams of cannabis concentrate and 500 milligrams of THC contained in cannabis-infused products. Visitors from other states could possess half of those amounts.

Up to five home-grown plants would also be allowed, provided certain safety conditions are met.

Adult-use legalization coupled with criminal justice reforms were campaign promises of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, whose office said in a press release Saturday that the proposal “will be a starting point” for debate.

But Madigan, a powerful Southwest Side Democrat, told a group of graduate student reporters from the University of Illinois Springfield’s Public Affairs Reporting program Monday that it could be difficult to get 60 House lawmakers — the threshold needed for the bill to pass that chamber — to agree on some of the language in the proposal.

The bill allows for the expungement of misdemeanor and Class 4 felony marijuana convictions and makes a special designation in the licensing process for “social equity applicants,” or businesses having a majority of owners or employees from communities that were “disproportionately impacted” by the war on drugs.

The bill gives those applicants access to funding from a newly-created $20 million low-interest state loan program, according to Pritzker’s release, and allows for reduced licensing fees in certain circumstances.

“There are some very controversial aspects to the proposal. No. 1 would be the proposal for the expungement of criminal records,” Madigan said. “The key on that issue is how far do you go in terms of expungement? If we’re talking about some teenager who was doing drugs and found guilty of possession, that’s one thing. If you’re talking about people who were actually in the business, dealers, and you want to expunge those records, that’s a different case.”

Convictions for possessing, growing, manufacturing and delivering cannabis were all included as eligible for expungement in a document released by Pritzker’s office, which said the expungement provision would only apply to standalone offenses not accompanied with other convictions.

Madigan said he wasn’t speaking to the bill’s specific expungement language, but to the idea in general.

“I’m not sure how they treat that in the proposed language, but that will be very important in terms of finding 60 people in the House to vote for the bill,” he said.

Per the bill, the Illinois State Police would be required to start the expungement process within two years of the effective date of the law by identifying individuals eligible for expungement and notifying prosecutors’ offices, local law enforcement agencies and the attorney general’s office of their cases.

Madigan said the decision process for which businesses will receive new licenses would affect the vote as well.

“Among the minorities in the Legislature, they would argue that there oughta be some leg up for minorities in terms of licenses to cultivate or be a dispenser. Here again, language will be important in terms of finding 60 people to vote for the bill,” Madigan said.

The General Assembly has just 21 days of legislative debate on the calendar to pass the critical piece of Pritzker’s first-term agenda before legislators adjourn.

The governor budgeted for $170 million in new revenues next fiscal year from licensing fees associated with legalization.

The first of those fees would come from the state’s existing 17 cultivation and 55 dispensary facilities.

Currently-licensed cultivators would be eligible to purchase a recreational license for $100,000 and up to $500,000 paid to the Cannabis Business Development Fund, which would help fund the low-interest loans and other equity-promoting measures.

Retailers, on the other hand, would be allowed to purchase up to two licenses, each costing $30,000, with up to $100,000 paid to the CBD fund for the first license and up to $200,000 for the second.

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Beginning May 2020, licenses would be granted to 75 new entrants to the retail market. Then, in July 2020, processors, craft growers and transporting businesses would be eligible for 40 newly-created licenses in each respective category.

Craft growers and processors would pay $40,000 for their licenses, while new dispensaries would pay $30,000 and transporters would pay $10,000. Any applicant would also be charged a nonrefundable $5,000 application fee.

Debate is expected to begin soon in the Senate, which is made up of 40 Democrats and 19 Republicans. The bill will need 30 votes to move to the House for further consideration.

Capitol News Illinois’ Grant Morgan contributed to this story.