Illinois becomes 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana

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Illinois’ new governor, J.B. Pritzker, delivered on a top campaign promise Tuesday by signing legislation that makes his state the 11th to legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use and the second to approve it through the Legislature rather than the ballot box.  The bill, HB 1438, goes into effect January 1, 2020.

CHICAGO, IL – OCTOBER 01: Illinois gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker speaks during a round table discussion with high school students at a creative workspace for women on October 1, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Pritzker was joined by his Illinois gubernatorial Lieutenant Governor candidate Juliana Stratton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as they spoke to students about leadership. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Legalization in Illinois also means that nearly 800,000 people with criminal records for purchasing or possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less may have those records expunged, a provision minority lawmakers and interest groups demanded. It also gives cannabis-vendor preference to minority owners and promises 25% of tax revenue from marijuana sales to redevelop impoverished communities.

FILE – In this April 20, 2016, file photo, a man smokes a marijuana joint at a party celebrating weed in Seattle. A new federally funded study found, not surprisingly, that marijuana use in Washington state is up since pot became legal in 2014. The hard, or not-so-hard, evidence was in sewage samples. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Pritzker called the state’s marijuana law a step in the right direction, especially for communities of color that have been most negatively impacted by the war on drugs, CBS Chicago reported. 

“Studies have shown time and time again that black and white people tend to use cannabis at the same rates, but black people are far more likely to be arrested for possession,” he said. “Criminalization offers nothing but pain, disruption, and injustice. The legislators and activists standing with me today have heard you.”

In addition to providing criminal-record scrubbing for past low-level offenders, the law gives preference to would-be marijuana vendors in areas of high poverty and records of large numbers of convictions. And portions of tax proceeds must be reinvested in impoverished communities.

Police organizations are wary, concerned about enforcing driving under the influence laws and arguing technology for testing marijuana impairment needs more development. Law enforcement organizations were successful in killing an earlier provision that would have allowed anyone to grow up to five marijuana plants at home for personal use. Police said they’d have difficulty enforcing that, so the bill was amended to allow five plants to be maintained only by authorized patients under the state’s medical marijuana law. They previously could not grow their own.

Ten other states and Washington D.C. have legalized smoking or eating marijuana for recreational use since 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington state approved ballot initiatives. Vermont and Michigan last year were the latest states to legalize marijuana. Vermont did so through the Legislature, the first time it wasn’t done through a ballot initiative, but didn’t establish statewide distribution rules as Illinois did.

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