High Time or Half-Baked? Illinois Looks to Legalize Weed

Illinois residents could buy and use weed legally as soon as January should a measure backed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker be passed into law – but there’s no guarantee that will happen, despite his party holding supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature.

Some 60 members of the Illinois House signed onto a resolution (House Resolution 157) earlier this year that calls for lawmakers to slow down legalizing cannabis, and while the signatories are free to change their minds and back Pritkzer’s plan (Senate Bill 7) the resolution’s sponsor says he’s “working on the roll call daily” to prevent it.

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“It’s important that we send a message to the state, to the governor. Governor we need more work on this. This is not a bill that we want,” said Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines. “We have to protect our children and young adults from this drug, and pot. And what’s it going to do, how it’s going to affect … all the individuals. Listen, do you want this stuff in your neighborhood?”

Moylan said Monday there are no changes that would be enough to satisfy him; he’s steadfastly against legalized pot.

But his resolution is non-binding, meaning the other signatories are free to change their minds. Democrats in particular will be under considerable pressure to help Pritzker, a Democrat with the personal fortunate to make or break political careers, pass one of the signature initiatives of his first year in office.

On Saturday, at a press conference unveiling the bill, Pritzker signaled a willingness to negotiate.

“Everyone here is committed to continuing to listen to the members of the General Assembly and our communities during the next several weeks to understand their ideas for improving this measure. Our doors are open,” he said.

It took months – years, even – of research and talks to get to this point, so it’s unclear how much negotiating room is left.

Pritzker has signaled that it’s important to him that people be permitted to grow marijuana in the privacy of their own homes; the legislation he backs would permit people to grow as many as five plants, as long as they’re hidden from public view.

That may be an intractable difference for some critics, given that law enforcement maintains “home grow” will lead to criminal activity and underground sales.

Should lawmakers approve the marijuana proposal before the end of May, there would be little time to waste to get the program in order.

Under it, it would be legal for anyone aged 21 or older to buy and use cannabis purchased from licensed dispensaries come January 2020 – just eight months away.

Pritzker on Saturday was unable to say how much revenue that might bring into the state. The budget he proposed earlier this year banked on $170 million from licensing fees, but did not account for any marijuana sales in the 2020 fiscal year that runs from this July through June 2020.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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