New Governor Of Illinois Proposes Legalization


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From Patch
Pritzker Hopes To Legalize Marijuana Soon After Being Sworn In

The governor-elect needs support from state lawmakers for a plan to tax and regulate recreational weed while vacating cannabis convictions.

By Jonah Meadows, Patch Staff | Nov 8, 2018
CHICAGO — Governor-elect J.B. Pritkzer said Wednesday he plans to begin taxing legalized marijuana soon after being sworn in next year and hopes to free those currently in prison for marijuana offenses. Pritzker, who defeated Gov. Bruce Rauner by 15 points, has portrayed the legalization of cannabis as a way to remove an area of racial injustice in the court system, as well as a source of money for the financially strapped state coffers.

Throughout his term in office, Rauner opposed legalization efforts, limiting a 2016 decriminalization bill through an amendatory veto and hindering efforts to expand medical marijuana and disbanding a medical cannabis advisory board in the process. He called cannabis legalization a "massive human experiment."

Pritkzer's campaign promised "bring the era of mass incarcerations for minor drug offenses to an end," and focus on reinvesting in communities hardest hit by drug war policies and "include black and brown entrepreneurs in the planning and licensing of new marijuana dispensaries."

Legalizing the sale and possession of cannabis for recreational use is "something we can work on nearly right away," Pritzer told WFLD-TV. He said he also wanted to examine expunging arrest records of people convicted of cannabis crimes. And if marijuana should become legal, Illinois should not have "people sitting in prison for things that are currently legal," he said.

Pritzker plans to present a balanced budget that relies on revenue from taxes on legalized marijuana, he told the Association Press Wednesday. He said his budget may also include revenue from legalized sports betting or expanded casinos. The governor-elect said he expects tax revenue from recreational marijuana could rise to $700 million.

He said he planned to resume discussions with lawmakers legislative priorities, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, noting it would ultimately be up to leaders in both houses of the General Assembly.

"We'll restart those conversations with the leaders in both houses, on both Republican and Democratic sides about our priorities, which will include legalization, " Pritzker said. "I would guess that there will be discussion about it during this first session."

Efforts have been underway for more than a year to produce a legalization plan with bipartisan support, and ultimately the decision on whether to allow a vote on the matter may come down to House Speaker Mike Madigan, who said in April he has not made a decision one way or another on the question but said he expects a "very strong effort" in the legislature for legalization.

In Illinois, where polls suggest support for the taxation and regulation of recreational cannabis from about about two-thirds of residents, only state lawmakers can approve the taxation and regulation of recreational cannabis. The state's constitution has no ability to place binding referendums on the ballot, which is how marijuana became legal in nearly all of 10 states where it has been approved.

In Michigan, where 56 percent of voters approved recreational weed on Tuesday, Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer said she plans to pursue executive action to free those convicted of marijuana-related offenses from prison and expunge their criminal records. The new law does not require the state to begin issuing licenses for marijuana distributors until 2020. And in Missouri, voters passed a measures to legalize marijuana for medical use with 65.5 percent of the vote.

Last year, Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy and a coalition of introduced legislation to legalize recreational marijuana last year. They sought to gather a bipartisan coalition of support for the bills and said at the time they did not plan to bring it up for a vote until 2019 after a series of public hearings.

Under the plan proposed by the pair of Democrats from Chicago's North Side, Senate Bill 316 and House Bill 2353, half of marijuana tax reciepts would be used to fund the Illinois Board of Education and substance abuse prevention programs. The other half would go to the state's general fund reserves. The Senate bill has attracted one Republican co-sponsor and two House Republicans have signed on.

On the primary ballot in March, voters in Cook County overwhelming approved a non-binding referendum question asking if the state should "legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance."

The state Senate had voted in February to also place an advisory referendum on the November ballot. However, House Democratic leaders placed the bill in the Rules Committee where it remained until the day after Election Day, when it was referred to the Election and Campaign Finance Committee.

Over the summer, supporters of legalization held a series of town hall meetings to gather input from the community. The bill's sponsors have said public safety and medical professionals, community groups and advocacy organizations will all shape the course of efforts to regulate legal cannabis.

During the meetings, Sen. Bill Cunningham, a Democrat representing southwest Cook County said crafting the legislation would require working out what happens with the state's medical marijuana pilot program, establishing standards for impaired driving and setting the right taxing level to avoid encouraging a black market.

"It's not a matter of flicking a switch," he said.