Illinois Senate Schedules Hearing for “Hot Button” Cannabis Legalization Bill

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The effort to legalize adult-use cannabis in Illinois will face a key milestone Wednesday when a Senate committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing and likely vote on a measure supported by the state’s governor and top Democratic leadership.

The Senate Executive Committee is expecting dozens of speakers to sign up to speak about the bill at a hearing scheduled for 11 am Wednesday, Alex Gough, a committee spokesperson, told Cannabis Wire. The committee is chaired by Senator Michael Hastings, a Democrat who represents a suburban district south of Chicago.

Gough said the Executive Committee considers the Senate’s “important, hot button issues.” The chief sponsor of the adult-use cannabis legalization bill in the Senate, Democrat Heather Steans, also sits on the committee.

Gough said he expects a lengthy hearing and vote. It will be up to committee members to choose witnesses to testify and answer the committee’s questions. Assuming the committee votes to approve the bill, it would move to the Senate floor and called for an up or down vote at any time after the committee’s action, likely later this week.

The hearing is expected to pit adult-use legalization supporters against a vocal opposition led by the national anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). Since the bill’s release, SAM has targeted key swing lawmakers and members of the legislative Black Caucus to try to convince them to slow down on legalization, arguing that the bill’s criminal and social justice aims should be pursued separately from legalization.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and other lawmakers want theirs to be the first state that successfully ensures that disadvantaged communities and business applicants have a place in the state’s new cannabis marketplace. Provisions in the bill would provide low-interest loans to minority business owners who qualify and seeks to ensure that licenses are spread out amongst large and small businesses.

The 522-page bill, which contains far-reaching social equity, tax and health implications, faces a tight timeline. Pritzker has said it is one of his administration’s top priorities for the bill to be passed by the end of the legislative session at the end of the month.

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