Significant changes from initial draft helped bring on some GOP support
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The state of Illinois is one step closer to legalizing recreational marijuana.
The Illinois Senate voted Wednesday to pass the bill, sending it to the House for consideration in the final two days of the session. The vote was 38-17, with two Republicans joining 36 Democrats in supporting it.
“This bill is going to set the model, I believe, the gold standard for how to approach social equity issues, relating (to) cannabis legalization,” Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, the bill’s chief sponsor, said in her closing statement on the Senate floor.
The action Wednesday came just hours after a new, revised version of the bill was made public, and it is substantially different from the one Steans introduced on May 3, a proposal that sparked strong resistance from law enforcement, business groups and some local governments.
Like the original draft, the new bill, an amended version of House Bill 1438, provides that starting Jan. 1, 2020, Illinois residents could possess up to 30 grams, or roughly one ounce, of marijuana flower, five grams of THC concentrate and 5 grams of THC in a marijuana-infused product. It also authorizes the state to issue a limited number of licenses for cultivators, processors and retail dispensaries, and to charge excise taxes on the retail sale of marijuana products.
But other major provisions in the 622-page bill are substantially different from the original version, and those changes appeared to be key to gaining support and diffusing some opposition.
For example, instead of enacting blanket, mass expungements of previous criminal records for minor marijuana-related violations, the new bill allows for expungement through the governor’s clemency process if the case involves less than 30 grams of marijuana. For cases involving amounts greater than that, up to 500 grams, individuals and state’s attorneys would be allowed to petition a court to vacate a conviction.
“I think what is proposed today is a significant shift from what was proposed, what, two or three weeks ago,” Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, told reporters following a committee hearing on the bill Wednesday. “Moving that off the table, I think, paved the way for us to resolve a bunch of other issues that were very important that weren’t resolved initially.”
Among those other issues was a provision allowing people to grow up to five marijuana plants in their own homes, under certain conditions. While the original bill would have extended that right to all adults, the new bill limits it only to people who have been approved to use marijuana for medical purposes.
The new bill 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.
“We recognize there are shifts in social consensus,” Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Todd Maisch told the Senate Executive Committee. “And my board, after a lot of deliberation, said we aren’t really excited about this, but you know what, there are things that don’t shift, and that is the need for a safe workplace and a productive workplace. And I’m here to tell you that after a lot of work, and tremendous engagement from a lot of parties, … that we believe these are the strongest workplace protections in the nation.”
It also preserves the right of landlords to prohibit marijuana possession and use on their properties.
For many supporters of legalization, the most important issues other than expungement involved what they called “social justice and equity” provisions. Among those are provisions that earmark 25 percent of the revenue generated to a grant program for reinvestment in low-income, high-minority neighborhoods.
It also gives preference in license applications to people who live in or have connections to neighborhoods characterized by high arrest rates for marijuana and other drug-related offenses.
Some opponents of the measure, however, said that provision was one of the reasons why they voted against the bill.
“There is a limited number of licenses and we’re going to give preference to vendors who are going to be in the poorest zip codes in Illinois,” said Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet. “We’re going to give preference to keeping poor people stoned.”
In addition to funding community reinvestment grants, the bill calls for dedicating 35 percent of the revenue to the state general revenue fund; 20 percent for substance abuse prevention and mental health services; 10 percent to pay down the state’s backlog of unpaid bills; 8 percent for local law enforcement; and 2 percent for public education and safety campaigns.
“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 with a bipartisan vote,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement released after the Senate vote. “Senators Steans and (Toi) Hutchinson have done tremendous work to reach this point, and I encourage the House to take decisive action to make Illinois a national leader in equity and criminal justice reform.”