Legislation earmarked for the legalization of recreational cannabis use introduced in Illinois

Apr 5, 2019

A placeholder bill has been introduced in the Illinois State Senate, which would, once amended to include actual language, propose to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Senate Bill 7 would establish a plan to legalize cannabis for adult use in the land of Lincoln. In spite of the several state lawmakers pushing for a more cautious approach to legalizing cannabis, Senator Heather Steans argues that prohibition is simply a nonstarter.

“One of our primary goals with creating a legal adult-use cannabis market is to begin righting the wrongs caused by prohibition,” Steans said in a statement. “Prohibition does not work. By legalizing adult-use cannabis, we hope to bring existing sales out of the illicit market, providing people with a safe, regulated product.”

While the bill does not have any substantive language, it passed out of committee with Steans’ promise that the bill would be back with amendments which would include actual policy-language.


What the legislative proposal proposes to do

According to Steans, SB 7, once written, would propose to allow people 21 and older to possess a little more than an ounce of pot at a time. Steans and other legislators are considering suggestions to add an additional three licenses to the Prairie State’s existing medical marijuana’s cultivation and dispensary licensing program.

“So keeping the cultivation centers in place, but adding a craft grow license for a smaller footprint that could be loaded more flexible and have smaller capital entry requirements, a processing license, a transportation license, and then the dispensary license,” Steans told The Illinois News Network.

The issue as to how many, and specifically what type of, cannabis licenses should be available has been an issue of state debate. According to Steans, there are an estimated 800,000 marijuana users in Ill. who use it on a monthly basis, and only 35,000 card holders for the state’s medical program.

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The Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois has stated that the existing cannabis dispensary and cultivation centers in the Prairie State can handle an increase in demand for cannabis for the first two years of legalization; however, others are more concerned that the requisite infrastructure needed for that level of cannabis-capital is not yet in place.

According to a demand-study from the Illinois chapter of NORML, the state will need hundreds of additional dispensaries and cultivation centers to keep up with current market demands, as well as meet pot-prescription quotas for those who require cannabis for medical reasons.


The legislative study behind the earmarked legislation

In late March, Steans and State Representative Kelly Cassidy released the second half of a two-part study on the marijuana market in Ill. This second study, conducted by local consulting firm Freedman & Kosk, focused on policy recommendations and best practices for developing a legal marijuana market.

The study made suggestions on how a legal cannabis system could be established in Ill., and what sort of infrastructure must be in place prior to the marijuana market opening for business.

“It is important that we work together to establish a functional adult-use cannabis market,” Cassidy said in a statement. “We’re crafting a governing body, establishing a timeline that works for everyone, and encouraging inter-agency cooperation to ensure that everyone is at the table.”

While a state-regulated marijuana marketplace does have the potential to open up new avenues of revenue for not only the state, but for growers, sellers, and members of ancillary businesses related to the cannabis industry, Steans argues that a legalized cannabis market must be about social equity.

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“One of our primary goals with creating a legal adult-use market is to begin righting the wrongs caused by prohibition,” Steans said in regards to the study. “Prohibition does not work. By legalizing adult-use cannabis, we hope to bring existing sales out of the illicit market, providing people with a safe, regulated product.”

Lawmakers, including Steans, support the research stating that there must be legislative assurances to establish diversity among legal pot industry license holders. These policies could include a requirement for licensing agencies to include communities and groups that have been most affected by the prohibition of pot in the establishment of a legalized industry.

“We are really hoping to create more avenues of entry into the industry for a much more diverse set of players to participate,” Steans told The Illinois News Network.


Let’s slow our roll, at least until we have language

Due to the lack of actual legislative language for SB 7, some legislators voted against moving the bill out of committee until the bill gained more specificity.

“I think that we’ll be probably out of an abundance of caution [to] be voting no on the shell [of the] bill, but we appreciate very much the sponsor’s assurance that there will be as much time afforded as is necessary to ask questions and delve into an issue that has serious concerns with many of us,” Senator Dale Righter told The Illinois News Network prior to the committee vote.

State Rep. Marty Moylan currently has a legislative resolution with 59 co-sponsors making the rounds, requesting state legislators to slow their roll.

“We’re getting all the facts, the real facts, from the scientists and chemists and doctors in Colorado, and that’s what we want the residents of Illinois to know before they make any kind of decision,” Moyland said in an interview. “We want to slow it down because we want to get all the facts out. They are rushing this bill through.”

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In spite of the nay-voters, SB 7 survived to be amended on another day. Even state Governor J.B. Pritzker is blazing the pro-pot political trail. During his campaign, Pritzker argued in support of legalizing marijuana, and even included revenue from selling legal cannabis licenses in his state budget proposal.

According to Pritzker’s number crunching, the state can hope for as much as $171 million in revenue from cannabis licensing fees, but that's only if they can get cannabis legalized.

As for SB 7, Steans is hoping to pass her measure before the end of May, with language, and to have the marijuana marketplace open for cannabis-consumers by 2020.

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