The state Senate on Wednesday moved Illinois a step closer to joining the 10 other states that have legalized recreational marijuana for adults.
With a bipartisan 38-17 vote, senators sent the House a measure that would allow residents age 21 and older to legally possess 30 grams of cannabis, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate or 500 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product. Nonresidents could possess 15 grams of cannabis.
The bill also creates a licensed cultivation and dispensary system while directing Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a proponent of legalization, to pardon people with past convictions for low-level pot possession.
Pritzker encouraged the House, which now takes up the measure, to take “decisive action.”
“Illinois is poised to become the first state in the nation that put equity and criminal justice reform at the heart of its approach to legalizing cannabis, and I’m grateful that the Senate has taken this important step,” Pritzker said in a statement.
Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat who has been a longtime leader of efforts to legalize cannabis, said the two years of negotiation and study that went into crafting the legislation resulted in a bill that “makes sense here for Illinois” and will establish “the new gold standard for doing this in the right social justice way.”
“Prohibition simply does not work,” Steans said.
Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington, one of three Republicans who voted in favor the bill, said that cannabis use is “largely a personal choice” and that he was satisfied the legislation met “the primary role of government … to adopt safeguards to protect minors and safeguards to protect the public when an individual’s use puts others in harm’s way.”
In the House, a majority of representatives signed on as co-sponsors of a resolution calling for more deliberation on the issue. But those signatures came long before the latest version of the proposal was unveiled late Tuesday night.
To win some Republican support in the Senate, sponsors made key changes. The bill would restrict homegrown plants for personal use to those who are licensed patients in the state’s medical marijuana program. They would be entitled to have five plants per household.
The bill would allow employers to maintain a “zero tolerance” policy for cannabis in the workplace and would create a task force through the Illinois State Police to examine ways to enforce DUI laws involving marijuana use.
To allow for pardons and expungement, Pritzker’s office said the state police would identify past convictions for up to 30 grams, including possession and manufacturing and intent to deliver, as long as such convictions are not associated with a violent crime.
After local state’s attorneys have an opportunity to object, the state’s Prisoner Review Board would make a recommendation to the governor on whether to issue a pardon. If a pardon is issued, the attorney general would seek expungement of the related records in court.
For cases involving up to 500 grams possession, local state’s attorneys can ask a court to vacate those convictions as can individuals, represented by legal aid.
Pardon and expungement procedures in earlier legislation had caused concern among some Republicans who otherwise had been willing to support the measure. They contended that previous legislation created an unconstitutional pardon and expungement procedure because it would have been authorized by lawmakers who do not have that power.
Reaching an agreement to tone down the expungement provisions opened the door to negotiating on other issues, such as employer protections and measures to address law enforcement concerns, said Barickman, who signed on as a co-sponsor.
Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, center; Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago, left; and Christian Mitchell, deputy governor of Illinois, answer questions about a bill on legalizing recreational marijuana during a session of the Illinois General Assembly on May 29, 2019. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune)
While the negotiations succeeded in removing some opposition to the bill, some who fought against it haven’t gone as far as endorsing legalization.
Strengthened protections for employers who want to ensure drug-free workplaces helped convince the Illinois Chamber of Commerce to drop its opposition, President and CEO Todd Maisch said, but the chamber remained officially neutral on the legislation.
The compromise bill preserves many other provisions that supporters say are designed to help rectify the disparate impact the war on drugs has had on minority communities.
It would create a social equity program to help minority business owners enter the marijuana industry, including through grants and loans. It also establishes a grant fund to help pay for programs in communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
The proposal would set the licensing fee for the largest cultivators at $750,000, up from $500,000 in the initial proposal.
Steans said legalizing marijuana is expected to generate $57 million in general revenue in the coming budget year and $30 million for a cannabis business development fund. That’s far less than the $170 million Pritzker projected in his spending plan, but Steans said budget negotiators aren’t counting on any of that revenue.
After paying for regulatory expenses and costs related to the expungement process, marijuana revenue would be divided among a number of areas. The largest share, 35%, would go into the state’s general fund; 25% would go to community grants; 20% to mental health and substance abuse programs; 10% to pay down the state’s backlog of unpaid bills; 8% to support law enforcement; and 2% for public education.
Opponents to legalization are now gearing up for a fight in the House.
State Rep. Marty Moylan, a Democrat from Des Plaines who sponsored the resolution to slow the legalization process, said it should be delayed until the summer to allow lawmakers time to understand what’s in the bill.
Omari Prince, state director for Smart Approaches to Marijuana-Illinois, a coalition opposing legalization, said passage is not inevitable.
“Legalized and commercialized marijuana will negatively impact everything from our public safety to the health of our citizens,” Prince said in a statement. “We’ve seen in every other state that those who benefit off marijuana are wealthy investors and big business, not ordinary citizens.”
With the legislature facing a Friday scheduled adjournment deadline, the Senate also voted 44-6 to send the House a bill that would significantly expand the boundaries of the area in which the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the agency that oversees McCormick Place and Navy Pier, levies a 1% restaurant tax.
The tax currently is collected downtown, but the expanded area, which would include parts of the North, Northwest and South sides, was designed to bring in more money from trendy restaurants in areas such as Wrigleyville, Logan Square and Hyde Park, McPier CEO Lori Healey said during a committee hearing Wednesday. The agency expects to bring in an additional $10 million in annual revenue from the expanded boundaries, she said.
“Because Chicago is now the restaurant capital of the world — we host the James Beard Awards — what we tried to do was to increase these boundaries to the modest extent possible to really pick up all … the cool new restaurants that all of our conference attendees want to go to,” Healey said.
If approved in the House and signed by Pritzker, the bill would lead to the partial teardown of the aboveground portion of the McCormick Place Lakeside Center and the construction of a new facility over Martin Luther King Drive.
The legislation also would change the agency’s formal name to the Metropolitan Public Exposition Authority and increase its bonding authority by $600 million, to $3.45 billion.