Illinois on Tuesday became the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana for recreational use after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill that permits residents to purchase and have up to one ounce of cannabis at a time and non-residents up to 15 grams.
The move, which fulfills one of Pritzker's campaign, also implements the nation's first comprehensive statewide cannabis marketplace designed by legislators. It also means that nearly 800,000 people with criminal records for purchasing or possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less may have those records expunged.
The law provides for cannabis purchases at adults 21 and older at approved dispensaries, which, after they are licensed and established, may start selling Jan. 1
ILLINOIS MAN WITH STAGE 4 CANCER CENTER FOR ORDER THC CHOCOLATES
Pritzker's successful campaign for governor capitalized on growing public sentiment that law enforcement has better things to do than chase pot smokers and that state government can benefit by regulating and taxing the product as it does alcohol and tobacco.
He claimed that once established, taxation of marijuana could generate $ 800 million to $ 1 billion a year. He initially estimated that in the budget year beginning July 1, dispensary licensing would generate $ 170 million, but Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy, both Chicago Democrats who have been legalizing legalization for at least four years, were forced to lower that estimate to about $ 58 million in the final proposal. Added to this, the fully implemented program might generate only $ 500 million annually within five years.
The marketplace of the Illinois law also addresses what critics have complained is the decades-long war on drugs' disproportionate impact on minority communities. State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, a Democrat from Olympia Fields, said it was generally accepted statistic that African Americans are four and a half times more likely to be convicted of low-level pot offenses, but she did not know if Illinois numbers were higher than typical.
In addition to providing criminal-record scrubbing for past low-level offenders, the law gives preference to would-be marijuana vendors in areas of high poverty and records of large numbers or convictions. And portions of the tax proceeds must be reinvested in impoverished communities.
Police organizations are responsible for enforcing driving under the influence laws and arguing technology for testing marijuana impairment needs more development. Law enforcement organizations were successful in killing and earlier commission that would have allowed anyone to group up to five marijuana plants at home for personal use.
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Police said they'd have difficulty enforcing that, so the bill was amended to allow five plants to remain only at authorized patients under the state's medical marijuana law. They previously could not grow their own.
Other states in the District of Columbia have legalized smoking or eating marijuana for recreational use since 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington state approved ballot initiatives. Vermont and Michigan were the latest states to legalize marijuana. Vermont did so through the Legislature, the first time it wasn't done through a ballot initiative, but didn't establish a statewide marketplace like Illinois did.
Other initiatives have failed. Promising proposals in New York and New Jersey fizzled late this spring. Despite a statewide listening tour on the issue at Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor last winter, the idea never took flight.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.