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'Equity-Centric' Bill to Legalize Recreational Marijuana Introduced by Illinois Dems

The legislation would expunge roughly 800,000 cannabis-related convictions and create a $20 million loan program for people with expunged records to get involved in the licensed industry

worker at marijuana shop

A worker looks through a bag of marijuana that will be used to make marijuana-infused chocolate edibles at Kiva Confections on Jan. 16, 2018 in Oakland, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Illinois's Democratic governor and state lawmakers unveiled legislation over the weekend to legalize recreational marijuana for residents aged 21 and older, expunge roughly 800,000 drug convictions, and establish a $20 million low-interest loan program to help "social equity applicants" enter the licensed cannabis industry.

Gov. JB Pritzker detailed the bill's provisions at an announcement event at the office of the Black United Fund of Illinois in Chicago Saturday.

"We are taking a major step forward to legalize adult use cannabis and to celebrate the fact that Illinois is going to have the most equity-centric law in the nation," said the governor.

Pritzker thanked those who have advocated for cannabis legislation that focuses on social equity while acknowledging those negatively impacted by state and federal drug laws.

"For the many individuals and families whose lives have been changed, indeed hurt, because the nation's war on drugs discriminated against people of color," he said, "this day belongs to you, too."

If approved by state lawmakers, the 300-page bill would fulfill the first-term governor's campaign pledge "to legalize marijuana, reduce mass incarceration, and reinvest in Illinois communities" that have been "hit hardest by the war on drugs."

The legislation, which Democratic state Rep. Kelly Cassidy and state Sen. Heather Steans plan to introduce on Monday, would make Illinois the 11th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

Specifically, it would allow Illinoisans to grow up to five cannabis plants in their homes, with certain restrictions, according to a summary from the governor's office.

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State residents would be permitted to possess 30 grams of cannabis flower, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate, or half a gram of cannabis-infused products. Possession limits, which are considered cumulative, are cut in half for non-residents.

In addition to expunging the records of people with eligible misdemeanor and felony convictions, the bill would create a loan program for "social equity applicants"—individuals who "have been arrested for, convicted of, or adjudged to be a ward of the juvenile court for any offense that is eligible for expungement," as well as those who have lived in a "disproportionately impacted area" for at least five of the past 10 years.

The legislation would also establish the Restoring Our Communities (ROC) program "to invest in communities that have suffered the most because of discriminatory drug policies."

"For generations, government policies of mass incarceration increased racial disparities by locking up thousands of individuals for cannabis use or possession," Democratic state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth told HuffPost. "Now, as we discuss legalization, it is of the [utmost] importance that we learn from these mistakes and acknowledge the lingering effects of these policies. This bill makes equity a priority by acknowledging the importance of both economics and criminal justice in righting these wrongs."

The bill lays out a comprehensive taxation plan and details how the funds would be allocated: 35 percent to the state General Revenue Fund, 25 percent to the ROC program, 20 percent for mental health and substance abuse services, 10 percent for the state's backlog of unpaid bills, 8 percent for law enforcement training, and 2 percent to the Drug Treatment Fund for public education.

State legislators stop meeting regularly at the end of May. If the bill passes both chambers as it is currently written before that time, it would take effect next January—though the state wouldn't issue licenses to dispensaries until May and to processors, craft growers, and transporting organizations until July. The state would issue a second wave of licenses in 2021.

While the bill would not alter the state's existing medical marijuana program, it would require dispensaries to ensure that there is enough supply for it.

"There are lots of things I like with this bill but there are other things that I am not as fond of," Dan Linn, executive director for Illinois NORML, told Marijuana Moment. "However, that is usually the sign of a good bill that addresses all the stakeholders' issues."

"My biggest concern is that there will be supply issues," Linn said, "specifically with the very limited number of cultivation center and craft grow licenses that would be able to have an adequate amount of product available for market when the first legal sales start."

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