Metro East senators split as Senate passes bill to legalize cannabis for adult use in Illinois

A bill to legalize and regulate cannabis for adult use in Illinois passed in the state Senate Wednesday in a vote of 38-17. The bill, which removes several cannabis possession offenses from criminal histories, now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

State Sen. Rachelle Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, was one of two Democrats to vote no. Two other Downstate senators, both Democrats, Andy Manar of Bunker Hill and Christopher Belt of Cahokia, each voted yes. Republican Paul Schimpf of Waterloo voted no. Two other senators abstained from voting on Wednesday.

illinoiseal“MPP is proud to have worked hand-in-hand with state lawmakers and Gov. Pritzker to develop this historic legislation,” said Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which is leading advocacy efforts in support of the legislation. “This bill helps people remove the stigma and harm caused by prior cannabis possession convictions and creates opportunities for those who want to enter the new, regulated program.”

HB 1438, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy, would legalize the possession and purchase of up to 30 grams of cannabis for adults and establish an inclusive, regulated market for cultivators, processors, transporters, retail stores, and testing labs. If enacted, adults could begin purchasing cannabis as early as January 1, 2020. In addition to legalizing possession and sales for adults, the bill adds the option for medical patients to grow cannabis at home and creates cannabis-related training opportunities at local community colleges.

Laws regulating and taxing cannabis for adult use have been enacted in nine states — including Michigan — and the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands. Vermont and D.C. are the only two U.S. jurisdictions where cannabis possession and cultivation is legal, but where the laws do not include regulated retail sales. If HB 1438 is enacted, Illinois will become the first state to approve legal cannabis sales through the state legislature rather than via a ballot measure.

Belt explained his vote in a statement.

“Legalizing cannabis will bring a substantial amount of revenue into the state,” Belt said. “Additionally, removing marijuana from the controlled substance list will save some of the dollars that might otherwise be spent on law enforcement and incarceration.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is in support.

In a statement, he said: “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. Senators Steans and Hutchinson have done tremendous work to reach this point, and I encourage the House to take decisive action to make Illinois a national leader in equity and criminal justice reform.”

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce also issued a statement.

“While the Chamber remains skeptical on whether recreational cannabis is the right direction for Illinois, we recognize that this may become law, and have been engaged in a very constructive discussion with the sponsors of the legislation and the administration for the last several months,” said Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Maisch.

“We believe that through vigilant dialogue we have secured the strongest workplace protections of any state in the nation. We will continue to be active and engaged in any future conversations that are likely to occur to help shape the issue between passage and implementation on behalf of all Illinois workplaces,” Maisch said.

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