By Spencer Feingold
Illinois is set to be the first state in the U.S. to legalize commercial recreational marijuana through its legislature after lawmakers on Friday voted in favor of a legalization bill. The vote — which was 66 in favor and 47 against — follows multiple other legalization bids that failed to pass in states like New Jersey and New York.
The Illinois bill, which has been sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his signature, will make Illinois the 11th state to legalize marijuana.
"We spent two and a half years working on this, working through some pretty intense stakeholder meetings," state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat from Chicago and the bill's lead sponsor, told Cheddar in an interview Tuesday.
The law — known as the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act — declares that cannabis will be "regulated in a manner similar to alcohol." Adults 21 years old and older will be able to legally purchase and possess up to 30 grams of marijuana and cannabis-infused products with up to 500 milligrams of THC.
The legislation also creates a framework for the expungement of non-violent, cannabis charges. Those charged with under 30 grams of marijuana will automatically have their cases reviewed through the governor's clemency program; individuals charged with 30 - 500 grams can submit petitions for the court to clear their records.
We are "creating the most equity-centric system in this nation which will right historic wrongs and reinvest in the communities that have suffered the most because of the War on Drugs," Gov. Pritzker said in a tweet on Sunday.
An estimated 770,000 residents could qualify to get their records expunged, and the legalization effort is backed by Kim Foxx, the Cook County State's Attorney.
"We have created an approach that revolves around finding a way to inject equity into the industry," Cassidy told Cheddar. The law also dedicates "a pretty significant chunk of the revenue to investments in communities that have historically been harmed by the war on drugs."
The law mandates that tax revenue from cannabis sales first and foremost be applied to covering the administrative costs of expungement processes. Excess funds well then be applied to community investment projects, mental health services, and the state's general revenue fund, among other things.
Yet, Cassidy noted that the tax on cannabis will be comparatively lower than in other states to keep the products accessible and affordable.
"We are really mindful of the need to not over tax this product," she said, adding that she wanted "to make sure that we don't see folks being driven back into the illicit market place."
The legalization of recreational cannabis in Illinois opens up a major market for the industry and creates enormous business opportunities, especially for the national medical cannabis companies already active in the state.
The law is set to go into effect on January 1, 2020.