ILLINOIS: First Bill Emerges This Year to Legalize Marijuana
An Illinois state, Democratic lawmaker filed a bill to make recreational marijuana legal. It is probably going further than most other legislators favor, but it has at least started a debate over complicated legislation that will need to serve many interests to pass.
Introduced by Representative Carol Ammons of Urbana on January 25th, the bill would give licensed businesses the right to grow and sell marijuana, and allow residents to grow as many as 24 plants at home. A similar, more restrictive proposal has been in the works for over a year so it is unlikely that lawmakers will pass this measure instead.
Ammons' bill contains a few noteworthy provisions. The first being, it would allow businesses to create on-site areas where customers can legally consume the drug by means of smoking or swallowing. It would also force marijuana businesses to give 10% of their net income to the local governing body, but would also create a decently low 10% excise tax for generating state revenue. Special provisions are also included for minority communities and business owners.
As it's currently written, (but will probably change after multiple interests fight over how revenue will be divvied up) of that 10% excise tax, 50% of the proceeds will be sent to a general fund; 30% to a state school fund; and 2.5% to each of the following: hiring and training drug enforcement officers (Illinois State Police), State Universities Retirement System, and State Employees Retirement Pension.
It will also allow medical marijuana businesses that currently exist to sell recreational pot but should have a majority of minority license holders. This will prevent the rich from pricing out poorer entrepreneurs and she will put a $5,000 limit on application and licensing fees.
Ever since before she first took office in 2015, Representative Ammons has supported cannabis legalization. She co-sponsored Representative Kelly Cassidy's bill in 2016 to decriminalize possession of marijuana, but with getting this new bill considered, she might be facing an uphill battle.
Big policy changes, especially if controversial like legalizing recreational marijuana, tend to prompt long negotiations before ever happening, so with this legislation being introduced by one lawmaker without discussion might not see a vote.
It took years of debate and negotiations by a veteran of decades at the capitol, state Representative Lou Lang of Skokie, just to legalize the medical use of marijuana in Illinois.
Typically, lawmakers need to work out details, usually with administration official and lobbyists behind closed doors before getting the proposal into a bill form and holding a public hearing.
In this case, two Democrats, Rep. Cassidy and state Senator Heather Steans, have been working and reworking a proposal to legalize marijuana for more than a year. The bill was introduced last year but they waited to seek passage until this year when both House Speaker Michael Madigan and Governor J.B. Pritzker voiced their support for legalizing cannabis.
On December 6th of 2018, Michigan legalized possession of marijuana which could serve as a blueprint for surrounding states including Illinois' own effort in legalization, but if it all falls into place it could mean Illinois will legalize the recreational drug first.
As of now, Democrats control both legislative chambers and the governor's office so advocates believe this is the best opportunity to propose this kind of legislation.
Rep. Ammons is by no means trying to disrupt Cassidy and Steans bill, she just wants to make sure any bill that is passed also addresses the damage that has been done to minorities by imprisoning them at higher rates for drug offenses. Those people that were previously criminalized need to be able to become part of the economy. She is continuing to hold her own meetings with stakeholders to modify her legislation.
Steans and Cassidy are planning to introduce an updated draft of their bill by April after consulting with various groups such as law enforcement, the governor's office, and other lawmakers. They don't believe anything will pass before May but are willing to make as many iterations and negotiations as needed.
After concerns were cited by police, their bill would limit home-grown plants to 5 instead of the 24 in Ammons' bill because there are worries about those plants being contributed to the black market. They are also taking into consideration odors and local oppositions when it comes to consumption areas, so they will not be proposing that in their bill either.
Similarly, both proposals plan to erase certain nonviolent drug offenses, encourage investment in minority communities, as well as minority-owned marijuana businesses.
They both plan to present their proposals by holding town hall meetings on the issues before legislative hearings and the opposition is hoping to make their voice heard.
President of the Illinois Chiefs of Police Association, Brian Fengel, said his group members want to be able to minimize the danger from users driving while high it's legalized, so they are going to negotiate the funds needed to train police on how to recognize drugged drivers.
The Illinois NAACP, in contrast to many black lawmakers including Ammons, have reported their opposition to legalize marijuana.
A lobbyist for Healthy and Productive Illinois, Tim McAnarney, also opposes legalization stating that minority communities have already been damaged too much by drugs and putting more there is not going to help the communities.
Although opposing the legalization, he supports proposals that plan to expunge past convictions for small amounts of marijuana. If a bill ends up passing, they hope to at least exclude home-grown pot believing some will ultimately end up supplying the black market. The group also firmly disagrees with edible cannabis soda pop, candies, and other snacks that appeal to children.
He also believes that if legalized, there will never be enough taxes raised to support every special interest group that thinks they will benefit.
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