Illinois Cannabis Legalization One Step Closer As Senate Passes Ambitious Adult Use Bill

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On Wednesday night, Illinois lawmakers took another big step toward legalization of adult use cannabis as the Senate voted 38-17 in support of a comprehensive measure to regulate possession and sales of adult use cannabis.

The bill now heads to the House. Governor J.B. Pritzker, who would have to sign off on the legislation, has been a vocal proponent of legalization. HB 1438 is sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy and would legalize possession and sales of up to 30 grams of cannabis for adults 21 and over. There were some major changes from earlier plans: homegrown cannabis is limited to state-registered patients, and to five plants, and employers could keep zero-tolerance cannabis policies.

(Cannabis Wire has been closely covering the push for adult use in the state, and you can catch up here.)

“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,” Prizker tweeted Wednesday night, urging the House to now “take decisive action to make Illinois a national leader in equity and criminal justice reform.”

If the bill is signed into law, cannabis sales could start as early as New Year’s Day. Illinois would be the first state to legalize cannabis and regulate sales by legislature. (Vermont was the first state to legalize cannabis by bill, but it did not include sales.)

Many Senators thanked Steans for her work on legalization, indicating that some votes have been hard-earned.

“As a self-pronounced pro-life Libertarian, this is, it’s been a tough bill, and there were some speed bumps, for sure,” Republican Sen. Neil Anderson said before the vote. Anderson said he didn’t think he could support the bill a week and a half ago, but, after negotiations, he said, “we got there, and I think we landed in a good place.” He added that, as a father who has never consumed cannabis, it was his job to talk about the potential dangers.

“As I’ve said before, freedom is freedom. And I should not be infringing” on that freedom, Anderson said, adding that he would “rise” to support the bill.

Sen. Jason Barickman called Steans a “straight shooter” and an “honest broker on the other side of the aisle,” saying that Steans has “gone to great lengths to make sure that this legislation” is certain to put “safeguards in place.”

Sen. Michael Hastings, a Democrat, said that the “world is not going to spiral into chaos” because of legalization, and referenced veterans who didn’t have the legal option of cannabis. “I’ve lost a lot of friends to suicide,” Hastings said, adding that he knows some people who “drank themselves to death.”

Referencing the mixed alcohol and cannabis scene in Colorado, Hastings said, “I never saw a street fight. I never saw anyone arguing,” adding, “this is definitely a revenue generator and this will move the ball forward.”

Steans, just before the vote, took time to address concerns, from driving while intoxicated to youth use. “We’ve seen drinking and driving go down,” with good information and education, she said. “That’s what this bill will allow us to do.”

“We certainly know the way we have enforced cannabis in the history has been atrocious,” Steans said, referencing racial disparities in arrests. “This bill is going to set the model, I believe, the gold standard,” on equity, she said, adding that it’s the “biggest piece” of equity legislation that the state has tackled.

Steans thanked lawmakers and supporters of the legislation. “It really does take a village on a big piece of legislation like this,” she said.


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