With the passing of House Bill 1438 at the end of May 2019, Illinois will allow recreational marijuana sometime before January 1, 2020. This makes it the 11th state to legalize recreational weed and the first to do so through actual legislation and not a direct, voter-controlled ballot measure. The bill is historic for multiple reasons though.
The first, being that it passed through a state legislature with a 66-47 vote, but also because it’s the first legalization that accounts for the injustices of the War on Drugs. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat elected last November, hasn’t formally signed the bill to make it a law but has said he plans to do so. He also estimated in a statement that the state could potentially net $170 million in tax revenue from the first year.
Pritzker wrote the following on his Facebook page: “The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation. 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.”
This “equity-centric approach” is an attempt to make reparations from the harm done by criminal marijuana laws, especially in minority communities and widen the door for entry into the soon-to-be-legal industry. HB 1438 will do this by allowing residents of Illinois to make a case for their records to be expunged if they were convicted of simple possession and the offense was not connected with some type of violent crime. This opens the door for potentially 770,000 Illinois residents to clean their records of an activity that will be legal next year.
Many of the state legislature Democrats have supported the bill, citing the disproportionate effects of marijuana laws as a key reason. Rep. Kelly Cassidy helped draft the bill in its early stages gave a statement saying: “Decades of prohibition hasn’t stopped use, prohibition hasn’t made us safer. Prohibition hasn’t built communities, in fact, it has destroyed them. Prohibition hasn’t created jobs, in fact, it has prevented people from finding work. Ending prohibition will allow us to bring this out of the shadows. Impose reasonable and thoughtful regulation and bring assurance of a tested and safer product.”
As it stands right now, the law will allow Illinois residents 21 and older to have up to 30 grams of cannabis in their possession and will establish a network of recreational dispensaries. Non-residents will be allowed access to the dispensaries but can only have around 15 grams on their person. It’s common to impose heavy sales tax when states legalize recreational weed and Illinois is no different. However, they will have a sliding scale for the tax that will increase as the levels of THC increase in the products.
It will also still be illegal to smoke in public places or to drive while high. Again, like most legal states.