Illinois State Senate moving legalization bill forward

May 31, 2019

Residents of Illinois are one legislative step closer to seeing the legalization of recreational use of marijuana in their state.

With less than a week left until the state legislature adjourns, the Illinois Senate passed a measure that would legally allow for the recreational use of marijuana. The measure passed with a vote of 38 for the bill and 17 against, after only 40 minutes of debate.

In order to reach Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk for either approval or veto, the bill must still pass through the Illinois House.

The bill initially faced heavy opposition from law enforcement groups; however, recent amendments helped the nay-sayers vote in favor of the measure. Whether these recent amendments are enough to get the bill to pass through the House is another matter.

What would the bill do and have any changes been made?

Besides legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, the measure addressed such issues as home-growing, criminal record expungement, and even Driving Under the Influence regulations.

The expungement issue was a major point of contention for certain legislators and lobbying groups. The bill’s original language would have expunged an estimated 800,000 cannabis-related convictions immediately upon the bill’s passage.

[Arizona Supreme Court ruling ends a five-year argument over medical marijuana extracts]

The amendments scaled back the expungement process. If the bill is passed with its current revisions, convictions for cannabis possession in the amount of up to 30 grams will be addressed by the existing governor’s clemency process. This process does not require individuals to start the expungement process.

Instead, the governor pardons these persons, and licensed attorneys in the state may then petition the court to expunge their client’s records. This would only apply to persons with no other violent crimes associated with the charge.

If a person is convicted of cannabis-possession for anything above 30 grams, the state’s attorney or an individual could petition the charging court to vacate the conviction.

[Iowa governor vetoes medical marijuana expansion bill]

Additionally, the Senate Executive Committee approved amendments on May 29 that would allow only medical marijuana patients to have up to five plants in a home as well as new conflict of interest provisions.

These provisions would ban lawmakers and their family members, as well as state employees, from pursuing a cannabis business license for two years following the end of that person’s employment by the state.

This particular provision was added after it was discovered that a state senator was involved in marketing and investment seminars which touched on legalized marijuana and the cannabis business license application process.

As to whether these amendments will affect the outcome of the bill’s success or failure, the House is confident that the measure will make it to the Gov.’s desk.

“I think we’re familiar with the changes. I don’t know that he [House Speaker Mike Madigan] has any particular concerns,” Madigan’s Spokesman Steve Brown told The Chicago Sun Times.

“The changes ease some concerns that people have had. The things you heard the most were homegrown, and that’s been toned down, and I think the language dealing with expungement, having a prior conviction issue, has been modified,” Brown concluded.

What are the bill’s chances of making it to the Governor’s Desk?

Pritzker has made it perfectly clear to the legislature that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana is a political priority. In a statement to the House, Pritzker urged the legislators to “take decisive action to make Illinois a national leader in equity and criminal justice reform.

“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,” Pritzker concluded.

Bill sponsor Sen. Heather Steans said that marijuana smoking is already happening in their state, so the State may as well capitalize on cannabis.

[Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act introduced to federally decriminalize cannabis]

“We can’t pretend that we don’t actually have cannabis smoking going on. We know we do. In Illinois, we estimate that about 800,000 people are using. Burying our heads in the sand about that does not improve the situation or the outcomes on this,” Steans said. “A different approach is going to have a much better outcome.”

Residents of the Prairie State need only wait another week to see if a passable legalization bill will make it to Pritzker’s desk for approval. Hopefully, the bill will go through the House with ease, and Illinois can be the eleventh state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

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