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Governor Pritzker Ushers in a New Era for Illinois Cannabis Reform Laws

Cook County State’s Attorney, Kim Foxx, just announced that she will pursue expunging all misdemeanor non-violent cannabis convictions and is pushing for full legalization of cannabis in Illinois. At the same time, State Representative Kelly Cassidy and State Senator Heather Steans, long time advocates for recreational cannabis legalization, are moving full speed ahead on their legislation to make that happen. This is a really big deal!

During her speech to the City Club of Chicago last Thursday, 1/24/19, Kim Foxx, Cook County State’s Attorney, vowed to expunge all misdemeanor cannabis convictions. Individuals will no longer need to individually petition the court to have their records expunged. No details were forthcoming on how many people would be impacted. Her office has stopped prosecuting most possession cases but she acknowledged that does not go far enough. She recognizes how difficult it is for people with these offenses on their records to find a job and/or housing. Those with cannabis convictions had been barred from working in the Illinois medical cannabis industry. That changes next week when the new legislation is implemented.

Governor Pritzker, House Speaker Madigan and Cook County State’s Attorney Foxx all support an upcoming bill for full cannabis legalization which was initially introduced in 2017 by Rep. Cassidy and Sen. Steans. Under former Governor Rauner’s leadership, the bill stalled. Since Governor Pritzker took office earlier this month, a place holder for upcoming cannabis legislation, known as a shell bill, already passed in both the Illinois House and Senate. Cassidy and Steans have outlined a more comprehensive bill which they introduced at a town hall meeting at the Athenaeum Theatre in Lakeview, this past Thursday, 1/24/19. While this is a draft which they are still fine-tuning, here are some of the main points which will contribute to more diversity and equity in the Illinois cannabis industry:

Here are the bullet points as presented by Ms. Cassidy and Steans:

  • Illinois residents, 21+, may purchase or possess 28 grams (1 oz) at any given time
  • Adults over 21 may grow indoors 5 plants per household
  • Municipalities, employers and landlords have the right to prohibit or restrict its use
  • Revenue from sales will go to law enforcement, to public education campaigns, to substance abuse treatment centers and to revitalize minority communities decimated by the War on Drugs
  • Non-violent misdemeanor cannabis convictions would be expunged
  • People with misdemeanor convictions would be allowed to work in cannabis facilities
  • New cannabis licensing categories with varying points of capital investment will be created to help minorities, previously harmed by this country’s decades long drug policy, gain entry into the cannabis industry
  • Cannabis employers will be encouraged to broaden their diversity hiring goals
  • Cannabis employers with businesses in minority communities will be required to submit plans to reinvest in those same communities

Steps Still Needed To Be Ironed Out

  • File a revised bill, including feedback from Illinois citizens and those in the Illinois cannabis industry
  • Determine and implement a smart tax strategy
  • Determine the allocation and distribution of revenue; a portion of the excise tax would be used to fund nonprofits offering technical assistance as well as seeking grants for developing cannabis businesses in underserved communities
  • Create a reasonable timeline that allows for a smooth implementation of the new legislation regarding supply, without disrupting the current medical cannabis program

Those crafting the legislation are trying to rectify the wrong that has been perpetrated on minority communities, not only destroyed by the War on Drugs, but who were largely shut out of participating in the Illinois medical cannabis industry. There are very few minority owned medical cannabis founders in Illinois. Some of the black legislators, cannabis entrepreneurs and industry advocates are not fully on board with the legislation. They do not believe that enough attention has been devoted to clarifying the social justice components of cannabis reform laws, specifically on how they impact the black community.

Some of the social justice concerns that black legislators want addressed before they will agree to support the bill include the following:

  • whether or not parolees would be tested for cannabis use
  • making sure there is proper protocol for stopping and testing drivers who may be impaired
  • crafting very specific legislation to stop police officers from disproportionately pulling over black drivers suspected of driving under the influence of cannabis

The Restorative Justice and Public Safety Committee was created to help reform cannabis laws. Governor Pritzker had campaigned on a policy to legalize recreational cannabis that would prioritize giving fiscal and training opportunities to minority owned businesses. That would include fee waivers, technology assistance and subsidized loans.

I spoke with Edie Moore, Executive Director of Chicago NORML, a minority cannabis reform organization whose focus is social and racial equity in the cannabis industry. She recognizes that lawmakers Steans and Cassidy are doing their best to “incorporate the concerns of the underserved community” in their cannabis legislation. However, if the social justice components are not met by the bill, her organization as well as her community partners will fight until they are satisfied that there are social and racial advancement opportunities in place.

Some of their proposals that have garnered support by Steans and Cassidy include:

  • developing corporate diversity programs
  • establishing licensing categories for craft cultivators and cannabis-infused food and beverage producers
  • creating public consumption licenses allowing for cannabis use in bars, coffee shops and meeting places. Such establishments would be zoned in minority communities as part of new commercial developments. They believe that creating social consumption venues will allow a lot more people to enter the industry. It will also bring an influx of adjunct businesses, driving a lot of revenue to previously depressed communities.

Steans and Cassidy are still waiting for study results predicting the projected cannabis revenue and the cannabis supply required to meet the state’s demand.

Source: chicago.suntimes.com, Foxx Vows To Expunge All Misdemeanor Pot Convictions, Pushes Full Legalization, Tom Schuba, 1/24/19
chicago.suntimes.com, Dems Say Pot Bill Will Create Social Justice, But Black Leaders Aren’t Sold Yet, Tom Schuba, 12/30/18

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