By a vote of 66-47, the Illinois House on Friday gave final legislative approval to a bill that would legalize possession of recreational marijuana for people 21 and older, sending a bill to Gov. JB Pritzker that will be signed into law and would take effect Jan. 1.
"This is the beginning of the end of the war on drugs," state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, sponsor of House Bill 1438, said before the House followed the Senate this week to position Illinois to become the 11th state to legalize possession and sales of recreational cannabis.
Added Pritzker on Twitter: "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."
Cheers and applause erupted after the vote, which followed 3 1/2 hours of often-emotional testimony from supporters and opponents of HB 1438.
Supporters argued that legalization of adults possession and use of small amounts of marijuana would create a safer product, reduce black market sales and generate money for public education to ensure that underage use doesn't increase.
Proponents said Illinois would go farther than any other state has in trying to instill "social equity" for black and Hispanic people who have been arrested and convicted of cannabis-related offenses at disproportionately high rates. The bill creates a streamlined system for reversing convictions and expunging records for certain marijuana possession convictions — using the governor's pardon powers.
The bill also creates a clearer path for others convicted of marijuana-related crimes to seek expungements.
Friday's vote followed a 13-6 vote Thursday night in an Illinois House committee that sent the bill to the House floor.
“Fundamentally, prohibition hasn’t worked,” Cassidy told the House Judiciary Criminal Committee.
Friday's vote gives the Democratic governor the chance to fulfill a campaign promise to legalize recreational marijuana.
The bill would allow Illinois residents to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana flower, or about 1 ounce. The bill would allow possession of up to five grams of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in concentrated form, and no more than 500 milligrams of THC in a marijuana-infused product.
The legislation also would set in motion a system of taxation and regulation of commercial sales and production of marijuana and cannabis-infused products for recreational use.
Recent changes in the 622-page bill would allow home grows of marijuana plants only by patients in the state’s 6-year-old medical-marijuana pilot program. Five plants per household would be the limit.
Cassidy said HB 1438 could “reduce and nearly eliminate the illicit marketplace.”
“We want safety for our kids, we want social justice, and ultimately, if we do it right, we want revenue for our state,” she said. “What we want from this process is to set the gold standard for the country.”
Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said the bill would allow Illinois to take the most aggressive approach in the nation in creating “social equity” for black and Hispanic people who have been disproportionately affected by the “war on drugs.”
The bill would provide a path for expunging hundreds of thousands of convictions for low-level cannabis possession, she said.
The bill sets forth a process in which the governor would issue pardons for people convicted of misdemeanor possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis, as long as the convictions weren’t associated with violent crimes.
For convictions involving more than 30 grams but less than 500 grams of cannabis, the bill creates a clearer path for individuals to seek expungement of convictions and records from state’s attorneys. Pardons wouldn’t be considered for people with these convictions.
Gordon-Booth said the expungements would help people who are “often calcified in poverty” because of lost educational and job opportunities associated with convictions.
The bill also would provide loans and other economic incentives for minorities to become owners of cannabis businesses and award grants to assist low-income communities that have been affected by the “war on drugs.”
License fees for companies that want to sell, grow and otherwise take part in the recreational marijuana market would raise an estimated $170 million for state government in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Fees and taxes generated by the recreational cannabis industry would funnel an estimated $350 million to $700 million for the state and local governments each year after the system is fully operational in several years.
Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell, speaking on behalf of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, told House committee members that the association opposes legalization. He noted that there is no chemical field test admissible in court in Illinois to prove marijuana-related impairment for drivers.
“There are too many unanswered questions,” Campbell said. “Don’t let Illinois be a test tube for the Midwest.”
Blood tests conducted in hospitals can be used in court to document assumed levels of impairment based on the presence of the euphoria-inducing chemical THC in cannabis.
Cassidy said the bill would create a task force to help implement the latest science as it’s developed to help enforce impaired-driving laws.
Springfield resident Robert Moore, chairman of the criminal-justice committee for the Illinois chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said none of the 10 states legalizing recreational cannabis has yet documented a “social equity” benefit for black people.
Legalization would lead to more addiction, more pot use and a related increase in violence in black neighborhoods, he said.
“We don’t need any more victimization in our black community,” Moore said.
Contact Dean Olsen at email@example.com, (217) 788-1543 or twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.