High sign for legal pot — Pritzker inks bill making Illinois 11th state to allow recreational reefer

Illinois residents 21 and over will be able to buy marijuana at dispensaries as soon as Jan. 1.

SHARE High sign for legal pot — Pritzker inks bill making Illinois 11th state to allow recreational reefer

Recreational marijuana is now roughly six months away from being legal across Illinois.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law Tuesday.

That means residents 21 and over will be able to buy marijuana at dispensaries as soon as Jan. 1.

Illinois now joins 10 other states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

In Vermont and Washington, D.C., cannabis possession and cultivation is legal but sales are not regulated. Illinois and Vermont both legalized the drug through the legislative process, and not via a ballot initiative.

While many in Illinois care about the practical implications — like when and where they can buy marijuana, the governor and the bill’s sponsors are emphasizing the social equity components of the comprehensive measure, which will automatically expunge the records of those with arrests for possessions 30 grams of marijuana and will also help minority communities become involved in the business.

“Change is hard, but an essential tenet of good governance is recognizing the need to change the laws that have failed,” Pritzker said before signing the bill at the Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center on the West Side. “In the past 50 years, the war on cannabis has destroyed families, filled prisons with nonviolent offenders and disproportionately disrupted black and brown communities.”

The governor noted black and white people in the state use the drug at similar rates, but “black people are far more likely to be arrested for possession.”

“With this legislation, our state once again is a leader, putting forward the most equity-centric cannabis legalization in the nation,” Pritzker said to applause.

The new Illinois law allows Illinoisans over 21 years old to possess 30 grams, or just over an ounce, of cannabis flower, and 5 grams, or less than a quarter-ounce, of cannabis concentrates such as hash oil. Additionally, Illinoisans will be able to carry up to 500 milligrams of THC in a cannabis-infused product, such as gummies.

The law creates the Restore, Reinvest and Renew program, which will give 25 percent of cannabis revenues to communities disproportionately impacted by disinvestment — after legalization costs associated with enforcement and expungement of old records are met.

Medical marijuana patients will be able to have five plants in their homes — a change made during negotiations among lawmakers earlier this year.

There were also changes made in the expungement provisions of the measure, which would have initially automatically expunged hundreds of thousands of marijuana possession convictions.

Now, convictions dealing with amounts of cannabis up to 30 grams will be dealt with through the governor’s clemency process, which does not require individuals to initiate the process. For amounts of between 30 and 500 grams, the state’s attorney or an individual can petition the court to vacate the conviction.

New conflict of interest provisions were also added, which ban lawmakers and their family members, as well as state employees, from being able to get a cannabis business license for two years. New changes also included strengthening language to ensure employers can maintain a zero tolerance drug policy.

Designed to address concerns about impaired driving, the bill also includes the addition of a DUI Task Force led by Illinois State Police to examine best practices. That includes examining emergency technology and roadside testing.

Sales from recreational marijuana are expected to bring in $57 million in this year’s budget and $140 million next year, sponsors have said. They say it will eventually rise to $500 million a year once the program is fully running.

The law’s criminal and social justice considerations include plans to expunge marijuana convictions and allow those with pot convictions to work in the legal cannabis industry. The measure, as passed, also created a designation for “social equity applicants” hoping to obtain licenses and provide minority-owned businesses support.

Not all are on board with the legislation. The group Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action (SAM Action), as well as SAM Illinois called the new law “reckless.”

“Other ‘legal’ states have seen a dramatic increase in drugged driving crashes and fatalities, mental health issues, exploding use, rising emergency room visits, increased insurance premiums, corruption and thriving black markets,” SAM president Kevin Sabet said in a statement. “The promises of sky-high revenue and social equity have failed to materialize. We have no reason to expect the situation in Illinois to be any different. The legalization of marijuana is a failed policy.”

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