Illinois set to join the cannabis ride
The cannabis legalisation trend shows no signs of slowing down as Illinois is set to become the 11th state in the United Sates (US) to legalise marijuana for recreational use. The state will become the first in the country to actually legalise both the sale and possession of the drug through legislative action, unlike other states which relied on referendum ballot initiatives. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritkzer is expected to sign the bill into law soon, and the law is expected to go into effect on January 1st, 2020.
Cannabis legalisation is fast becoming the norm in the US. Thirty-three other states and Washington, D.C., have legalised cannabis for medical purposes, 10 of which have legalised the drug for recreational purposes along with D.C. In fact, the states where the drug remains illegal are now the anomaly.
These trends are a result of changes in how Americans view marijuana use today, as all of those states which legalised the crop did so through voter referendums (except for Illinois, as stated). This is also evident from modern polls, which find that 62 percent of the country’s adults now support cannabis legalisation, as opposed to only 12 percent in 1969.
Support for cannabis legalisation in the US continues to increase. Source.
That figure is even higher in Illinois, where over almost one-third of the state supports recreational cannabis legalisation.
Almost a third of Illinoisans support legal recreational marijuana. Source.
More about the Illinois legal cannabis law
Illinois’ legalisation news is unique for a few reasons:
- First to legalise the sale of cannabis by legislation
The state will become the first in the US to actually legalise the sale (not only possession) of marijuana for recreational purposes by way of an actual legislative bill, rather than a ballot initiative. Last year, Vermont came close in this regard when its state legislature legalised the possession of marijuana but fell short of legalising the sale of the drug via legislation.
- Criminal justice reform
The bill is also unique in its attempts to wipe the convictions of those who were convicted of possessing cannabis prior to the bill becoming law. The provisions to this regard are wide ranging, as the bill turns back the clock on old marijuana crimes. Apparently, those who have cannabis possession convictions can get their records expunged as a result of the new law, allowing them to move forward in society without the stigma of a criminal background.
- Minority focus: Investment in victimized neighborhoods
The war on drugs targeted minority communities and resulted in a number of prosecutions and incarcerations of African and Latin Americans. A bevy of convictions resulting from the war on drugs era were marijuana-related and still are. Despite Illinois decriminalising the possession of small amounts of cannabis back in 2016, arrests and ticketing of minorities still remain the norm in Chicago, the state’s major city.
Illinois decriminalised the possession of small amounts of cannabis back in 2016, electing for fines and tickets as opposed to arrests and prosecution. However, nothing changed for minorities. Source.
This legalisation law aims to change that. The criminal justice reform provision isn’t just to wipe records in general, but particularly focuses on fixing the records of members of minority communities that were so heavily targeted by illegal marijuana laws.
Further, minority communities will receive a lot more investment attention than others. Twenty-five percent of tax revenue procured from cannabis sales will be reinvested in those communities that were hardest hit by marijuana convictions as a result of the war on drugs. Dispensaries in such neighborhoods will also get priority treatment in their license applications.
Illinois reform coming at the right time as federal government turns a blind eye to banks
According to Governor Pritzker’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget, Illinois is set to gain $172 million in revenue and taxes from the cannabis licensing process alone. A 2015 estimate by the Marijuana Policy Project cited the potential total revenue for legal cannabis as up to $699 million annually.
This isn’t only good news for the state, but also for future cannabis businesses as Illinois is bringing about this change at the right time. Cannabis businesses will find it easier to operate in Illinois because:
- The Illinois senate already passed a bill that bars the state from penalizing financial institutions that provide services to cannabis businesses.
- The current US spending bill being pushed forward by Democrats in the United States House of Representatives will allow banks to work with cannabis businesses without any repercussions from the US Treasury Department.
- While the spending bill will only bar Treasure Department repercussions, a more focused bill that is gaining momentum will have the same effect on the Justice Department.
With Illinois’ legal cannabis law expected to go into effect on January 1st of next year, the timing might be just right considering the fact that it may coincide with these bills being finalised.
Cannabis legalisation seems to be the new thing globally. The discussion is ongoing worldwide with several countries moving towards a more lenient approach on the marijuana debate. Illinois has become the latest in the United States, which already has legal cannabis laws of some sort in almost a third of its states.
Here, Illinois seems to have taken a more equitable approach than other states, however, as it attempts to wipe out cannabis possession convictions from the records of its residents. The state also plans to dump funds into neighborhoods that were hit the hardest by the war on drugs. These provisions make the state’s legalisture’s move a more noble one than others that seemed to be more focused on tax revenue for state gain alone. Here, a number of countries and states alike can find some new lessons and ideas when considering cannabis-related reform.