By Bob Bong
Illinois lawmakers not only voted to legalize recreational marijuana over the weekend they also voted to permanently legalize medical marijuana.
The Illinois House easily approved recreational marijuana last Friday 66-47 after the Senate passed it earlier in the week on a 38-17 vote.
Illinois will become the 11th state to allow recreational use once Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the bill, which he has promised he will do. But Illinois is the first to do so by a comprehensive statute enacted by the Legislature rather than through a ballot initiative.
“The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation,” Pritzker said in a statement released after the vote. “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. In the interest of equity and criminal justice reform, I look forward to signing this monumental legislation.”
The Illinois bill would provide for licensing and regulation of marijuana cultivators, processors, transporters and sellers. It also allows Illinois residents over age 21 to possess up to 30 grams, or roughly one ounce, of marijuana for personal use, and it allows people certified to use marijuana for medical purposes to grow up to five plants in their own homes.
Sales and possession would become legal under state law on Jan. 1, 2020, although marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
The bill also sets out a schedule of licensing fees and excise taxes that could raise $58 million in the upcoming fiscal year, and as much as $500 million a year when the industry is fully mature.
The bill also provides a mechanism under which hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents could have criminal records for minor marijuana-related offenses expunged.
The new law also preserves the right of employers to maintain “zero tolerance” policies on drug use and to establish drug-free workplaces. And it allows local governments to prohibit cannabis businesses in their communities, or to enact zoning regulations to control where they are located.
People who hold licenses to operate medical marijuana dispensaries will have the first opportunity to obtain a second license for a recreational dispensary so retail sales can begin Jan 1.
One local dispensary is Windy City Cannabis, 11425 S. Harlem Ave., Worth. Other local Windy City dispensaries are located in Homewood, Posen and Justice.
“With this major move to vacate non-violent offenses and a dedicated program to help minority communities invest in a legalized industry, this is a true step toward justice in the wake of the destructive War on Drugs,” said state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16th), whose district includes portions of Oak Lawn.. “As we seek to bring an end to an illicit market and give rise to a legal one, I’m dedicated to fighting for equity for communities of color that have been devastated by punitive drug policy.”
Legalization was not without its critics.
Opponents warned about the public health and criminal justice effects that they said legalization would have.
Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis) cited a number of scientific studies that showed a correlation between marijuana use and violent behavior, including studies that showed an increase in violent crime in states that have recently legalized marijuana.
“Correlation does not prove causation,” he said. “However, there is sufficient evidence for us to show that there is a connection between the use, particularly heavy use of marijuana and the increase in violence.”
Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights) re-enacted a 1980s-era anti-drug advertisement by holding up an egg, saying, “This is your brain,” then breaking it into a frying pay and saying, “This is your brain on drugs.”
Lawmakers also made permanent the medicinal marijuana program that started in 2013 and was to expire next year. The program was overwhelmingly approved 98-3.
State Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Deerfield) said Senate Bill 2023 stabilizes the program, clarifies who can be certified patients, and adds a social equity component. The bill also adds 11 new qualifying conditions, including chronic pain, migraines, anorexia, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Medical marijuana patients can now also grow up to five plants at their homes.
Morgan said there’s approximately 60,000 patients enrolled in the medical cannabis program. He said he’s spoken with patients who have voiced concerned about the permanency and access to the program since it remained untouched by the two previous administrations.
Contributing to this report was Joe Boyle