As the clock ticked to adjournment last Wednesday, the Illinois Senate quickly passed a comprehensive measure that seeks to allow the use of recreational marijuana. This move is a great step towards legalization.
The Senate votes that approved legalization were 38-17, after 40 minutes of debate.
Bill sponsors faced opposition from law enforcement groups. The sponsors thus scaled back the expungement provisions in the measure narrowing down home grow just for medical marijuana users, among others.
As of now, legalizing marijuana remains one of the top priorities of Governor J.B. Pritzker. Soon, legislators are likely to take up budget and capital bills, as well as a measure that will hopefully set rates on the graduated income tax. After this, the stage for house debate on cannabis legalization will most likely be well set.
Steve Brown, the spokesman for Illinois Speaker Mike Madigan, said that the house will have a committee hearing and a caucus meant to review changes to this legislation.
In a statement, Pritzker urged the house to take action in making Illinois a nationwide leader in equity and reforms on criminal justice.
In the state debate, Senator Dale Righter argued that legalization will escalate the use of marijuana and has already led to more prosecutions of organized crime in Colorado. Righter, R-Mattoon backed this up saying that more people would use cannabis and this could lead to more hazards for the public. On the other hand, Sen. Jason Barickman said that he supports the measure now in part due to additions protecting employers. He claimed that it also gives them freedom to their choices more.
Senator Heather Steans, the bill sponsor, said that only one cannabis-legalized state has seen a rise in teen use. According to Steans, there are about 800,000 people who use marijuana. He held thatlegislators are not making things any better by burying their heads in the sand about the matter. He insisted on a different approach to cannabis legislation and legalization that would have a better outcome.
Earlier the previous Wednesday, the Executive committee at the Illinois Senate voted 13-3 approving the bill’s latest tweaks. One tweak is permitting patients who use medical marijuana to have up to 5 cannabis plants in their homes. The committee also voted in favor of scaling back expungements. Any convictions that deal with up to 30 grams of cannabis will be dealt with through the clemency process of the governor, which does not need people to initiate the process. Amounts ranging from 30grams to 500 grams will be petitioned by the state’s attorney. An individual can also petition the court to leave the conviction.
With the original language, approximately 800,000 convictions would be automatically expunged. With the revised language, convictions for possessing cannabis amounts under 30 grams can be pardoned by the governor. This also makes state lawyers capable of petitioning the court to expunge records. The jury/judge would direct county clerks and law enforcement agencies to clear their records. This applies only to people convicted with no violent crime related to the charge. It also only applies for convictions which take place from the moment the bill takes effect on the 1st of January.
Also, the new language would add a DUI task force headed by the Illinois State police to examine the best practices. According to Steans, some of these would be roadside testing and examining emergency technology.
Deputy Governor Christian Mitchell testified the upping of a social equity loan program from $20 million to $30 million. He held that expungement changes were arrived at in conjunction with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and state attorney Kim Foxx among other state attorneys.
Barickman, R-Bloomington, commended the sponsors for getting back to the table and setting up a “gold standard” for workplace standards. Other changes are strengthening language to make sure that employers can maintain a zero-tolerance drug policy in case legalization happens.
Barickman, R-Bloomington, Illinois Sheriffs’ Association executive director, said during the committee that home grow is still an issue, even though it is limited to medical marijuana patients due to the program expanding. He claimed that they still lack access and are unable to know who is doing what.
New provisions for conflict of interest were added, and this would ban lawmakers, family, and employees to the state from being able to get a license for cannabis business for two years.
The conflict of interest ban was added when it was reported that Senator Patricia Van Pelt had been involved in investment and marketing seminars and leading a company that intended to get a marijuana growing and selling license. Van Pelt had since then been removed as the bill’s sponsor on May 15. As reported by the Sun Times, Van Pelt and her involvement in the marijuana business is under investigation by the Illinois secretary of state office. Van Pelt told Sun times that although she would not be involved in the legalization bill’s shaping, she did not make any commitment to abstain from voting on the measure.
Van Pelt did not turn up during the vote.
Persons opposing the wide-ranging bill were vocal on their displeasure at the lengthy Senate committee hearing on May 15. They aired concerns about everything, including how law enforcement will lead to impairment of drivers to which offenses related to marijuana should be expunged on them.
On the 4th of May, Pritzer stamped the approval of the measure which will allow Illinois residents who are 21 years and above to purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries. It would permit such persons to possess 30 grams or just past an ounce of the marijuana flower, or less than a quarter ounce of marijuana concentrates like hash oil. Also, Illinoisans would be allowed to carry up to half a gram of edibles infused with pot.
The criminal and social considerations of the bill include plans to expunge cannabis-based convictions and allow persons with pot convictions to work in the marijuana industry. As passed, the measure creates a designation for social equity applicants who hope to get licenses and give support to minority-owned businesses.