The people of Illinois have spoken and elected a new governor, JB Pritzker. I know that some people were one-issue Pritzker voters; he campaigned on a promise to expand the Illinois medical cannabis program and to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis. There have been lengthy threads on the Illinois Medical Cannabis Community (IMCC) Facebook page, speculating about how things will progress in the Illinois legislature once Pritzker takes office in January, 2019. I have compiled all the information I have read into this comprehensive post.
Here’s what you need to know about our Illinois constitution:
- Unlike the majority of states that have already legalized recreational cannabis, the Illinois Constitution does not allow its voters to pass a binding referendum on cannabis legalization via the ballot box.
- Only state lawmakers in the General Assembly can approve the taxation and regulation of recreational cannabis.
- The governor has the power to sign legislation to legalize cannabis, but it must be passed by the lawmakers in the General Assembly.
In March, 2018, State Representative Kelly Cassidy-14th District and Senator Heather Steans-7th District introduced House Bill 2353 and Senate Bill 316 into the General Assembly to set up a framework for the regulation and taxation of recreational cannabis. Now that Pritzker has been elected, those bills will be allowed to expire. Stakeholders in the cannabis industry will hammer out new bills to replace them. The timeline is for a new cannabis bill to be introduced when the new legislative session convenes in January, 2019. The expectation is that it will pass by the end of the session in May, 2019. There will be a 6 month waiting period for the rules to be drawn up before issuing licenses for growing and selling cannabis.
Governor-elect Pritzker already has a transition team in place. All those involved in the legalization process will continue to meet until January 9, 2019, when the Illinois General Assembly session begins. They will be working to iron out the final details of the many decisions to be made about the rules and regulations. Some of the revenue will subsidize law enforcement and help fund treatment programs which are currently woefully underfunded. Representative Cassidy and Senator Steans are warning against setting the tax rate too high. This would sabotage one of their main goals of reducing black market sales and its related violent crime. The black market will never disappear, but if the price of recreational cannabis is lower than the black market, more users will use legal avenues for their purchases.
Here is a list of considerations to be worked out:
- Who will receive distributor licenses?
- Age restrictions; the Cassidy/Steans bills already specify adults 21 and over
- Penalties for abuse
- Regulation limits on potency
- Limit on the number of licenses
- Employment protections
- Home grow….on many people’s minds
- Vacating the sentences of those incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses for simple possession of cannabis
- Most importantly, the tax rate for cannabis; wholesale price of cannabis is projected to fall by at least 50% over the course of the first 4 years of recreational cannabis legalization. Now that neighboring state, Michigan, just voted to legalize recreational cannabis, Illinois lawmakers have an added incentive to move quickly on passing legislation. In order to keep Illinoisans from flocking to Michigan to make their purchases, the market will have to be very competitive here. This can only benefit consumers.
IL NORML, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, advocates for prioritizing licenses for small businesses over large corporate entities. The organization also favors home grow. They are proposing a license tag for every plant for which residents would pay a tax. As for a timeline on when recreational cannabis shops may be open for business, Ali Nagib, assistant director for IL NORML, said the following: “Let’s say a bill passes before May, 2019, with July, 2019, as the effective date. Maybe 12 months from the time the law takes effect is a target date for purchase.”
Illinois can also greatly benefit from seeking guidance from the other states that have already legalized cannabis in order to avoid some of the pitfalls. The 20 current Illinois cultivators have the potential to expand their businesses by double or triple capacity without having to increase the size of their growing facilities. NORML estimates the increase in cannabis customers from 48,000 current medical cannabis users to between 750,000 and a million with the legalization of recreational cannabis.
In addition, Governor-elect Pritzker is adamant about including “black and brown entrepreneurs” in the planning and licensing of new medical cannabis dispensaries and production facilities as a means of addressing “historic systemic racism.” “Criminalizing cannabis hasn’t made our communities safer. What it has done is disproportionately impacted black and brown communities.” There are currently no black-owned medical cannabis dispensaries or cultivation centers in Illinois. Furthermore, Pritzker plans to free those currently in prison for non-violent cannabis offenses which disproportionately affect people of color.
How Will This Affect IL MCPP patients?
Many patients are wondering if they should renew their medical cannabis card or wait for recreational legalization to pass. If you require a large amount of high potency cannabis, you will probably want to remain a medical cannabis patient. Some patients get a break on their taxes, and the limit and strength of the cannabis products will almost certainly be higher for medical cannabis patients.
Get involved in the process by contacting your local state representatives and state senators to voice your support for recreational cannabis legalization. Illinois House Speaker, Mike Madigan, has just publicly announced his support for the legalization of recreational cannabis. This is a huge development in moving the legalization process forward. There are legislators, especially in southern Illinois, who do not support this legislation. Efforts have been underway for bipartisan support which is crucial to pass such legislation. NORML and other cannabis reform groups will be holding lobby days at the Springfield offices of legislators to support cannabis reform measures. If this issue is important to you, contacting your legislators is your best means of exacting a change in the law.
Sources: rrstar.com, Georgette Braun: Issues To Iron Out Before Legal Recreational Marijuana Is Available in Illinois, Nov, 2018
ChicagoTribune.com,With Pritzker Win, Pot Legalization Is Now in Legislators’ Hands, But Not All Are On Board, Robert McCoppin, 11/09/18