Recreational Marijuana Is Legal In Illinois
CHICAGO (CBS) — With the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020, recreational marijuana officially became legal in Illinois.
Illinois is now one of 11 U.S. states in which recreational use of marijuana is legal – following a successful push that served as a major element of Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaign’s campaign for office in 2018.
Large crowds gathered overnight to wait in line at a cannabis dispensary in Lakeview. CBS 2 also covered lines forming at a dispensary in The Loop.
Sunnyside* cannabis dispensary near Wrigley Field in Lakeview opened at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Medical use of marijuana was legalized beginning six years ago on Jan. 1, 2014, after then-Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill authorizing it into law the previous August.
The law allows registered patients to obtain up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana every two weeks from a dispensary the patient specifies during the application process.
Quinn lost his bid for reelection to Bruce Rauner in 2014. Rauner repeatedly rejected recommendations form an expert advisory board to expand the number of conditions that would qualify for a medical marijuana prescription – only to pull an about-face in 2016.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers also passed a bill that would have removed criminal penalties for possession of up to 15 grams marijuana in 2015, but Rauner vetoed the bill. But the following year, Rauner approved a bill that decriminalized 10 grams or less with marijuana – changing the offense to a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $200.
In 2017, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) and Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) proposed legislation to legalize and regulate cannabis. They estimated that legalization could generate up to $700 million for the state every year. Travel expert and marijuana advocate Rick Steves was among those who spoke out in favor of the proposal.
“What we need to do is take that black market down and turn it into a highly regulated, highly taxed legal market so that we can gain credibility and focus on the real risk to young people in our society which is hard drug abuse,” Steves told CBS 2 in 2017.
Steans and Cassidy’s proposal would have allowed individuals to possess up to 28 grams or grow five plants for adult use.
In March 2018, a nonbinding referendum was placed on the Illinois primary ballot asking if Illinois should legalize “the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older.”
Nearly two thirds of voters backed the referendum. But Rauner came out against legal recreational marijuana, calling it a “mistake.”
“I’m pleased that Senator Heather Steans and Representative Kelly Cassidy have put forward their concept for a bill. They have a bill that they introduced last year and they’re working on it this year to make sure it’s the right kind of program, regulatory system, that works for everybody in the state,” Pritzker said in March 2019. “I’m going to make sure all the voices are heard, in particular, black and brown communities who have been put upon by the war on drugs over so many years.”
In May 2019, the Illinois state Senate passed a recreational marijuana bill. The bill allowed Illinois residents 21 and older to legally buy and possess marijuana — 30 grams of cannabis flower, five grams of cannabis concentrate such as oil cartridges and muscle creams, or 500 milligrams of edibles such as brownies or gummies. Thirty grams of pot in leaf form is typically enough for 30 to 50 joints.
In addition to standard state and local sales taxes, the bill allowed the state to impose a 10% tax on all marijuana products with up to 35% THC, the chemical that gets marijuana users high. Marijuana products with THC concentrations of more than 35% were to be taxed at 25%. Cannabis-infused products like edibles were to be taxed at 20%.
Counties can add up to 3.75% for unincorporated areas and municipalities can add special taxes up to 3%.
The bill that was approved did not allow consumers to grow marijuana plants. Adults were required to buy the cannabis in licensed stores.
According to the bill, cannabis products could not be transported over state lines, and tax revenue was to cover needs and costs related to expungement or the clearing of marijuana related records before it was broken out. Additionally, local towns were permitted to decide individually how cannabis-related businesses may fit into their communities and employers were still allowed to maintain zero tolerance workplaces. Landlords and business owners were permitted to have zero tolerance policies as well.
Since May, existing marijuana dispensaries have been preparing to begin selling adult-use cannabis this New Year’s Day, and in some cases opening special locations. Meanwhile, some municipalities have opted not to allow pot businesses at all, while others – including Chicago – set up specific restrictions.
In Chicago, the mayor and City Council have prohibited marijuana sales in most of the downtown area, and divided the rest of the city into seven zones, with a maximum number of stores selling recreational marijuana in each.
Chicago’s marijuana zoning rules also require anyone seeking to operate a marijuana business in areas of the city typically reserved for storefronts to obtain a city permit and a zoning change, which would require City Council approval and give aldermen more oversight of recreational pot shops.
A List Of Illinois Recreational Marijuana Dispensaries Effective Jan. 1, 2020
Expungement Of Past Convictions
The recreational marijuana law also called for hundreds of past marijuana convictions to be expunged. But how and when that will happen isn’t as simple as it sounds.
In December Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx launched her office’s effort to eventually clear tens of thousands of minor pot convictions from court records. Her office filed the first 1,000 petitions to expunge those convictions.
Prosecutors will automate the expungement process for the lowest-level marijuana convictions, but people convicted of more serious cases will have to individually petition to have their cases cleared.
Cases of marijuana possession of less than 30 grams qualify for automatic expungement as long as they are not associated with violent crimes. But doing so will require police and prosecutors to review databases for eligible cases, which will take time. An “automatic” expungement doesn’t have to be approved until January 2021 if it dates as far back as 2013.
Concerns And Controversies
In the run-up to the legalization of recreational marijuana over the past couple of months, concerns mounted among medical marijuana users about a lower supply and rising prices.
The Cannabis Association of Illinois, a trade group, said in November that over the year prior, it had become easier to qualify for medicinal marijuana, and the list of accepted medical conditions has grown. It’s raised the pool of marijuana patients from roughly 20,000 to more than 80,000.
Cannabis patient advocate Kalee Hooghkirk told CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole in late November that she was not satisfied with that explanation, saying, “These cultivators knew these conditions would be expanded within 2019.”
State law requires dispensaries have maintained a 30-day supply of marijuana for medical use first as recreational use comes on line. Some patients wondered if dispensaries could be hording supplies to prepare for increased demand.
To guard against that, the state enacted new standards in November, saying dispensaries could only put out for recreational sale marijuana that was purchased after Dec. 1, 2019.
Meanwhile, controversies erupted over restrictions on who could use recreational marijuana based on where they lived, and who would really stand to benefit financially from legal marijuana.
Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, its use is not permitted in public housing – and could cause public housing tenants to lose their living arrangements.
In the summer, the Chicago Housing Authority informed residents of the discrepancy between federal and state marijuana laws. It stopped well short of spot inspections and mandatory drug testing.
But other jurisdictions did not. One woman who lives in a federally-subsidized apartment in Wilmington said she had received a letter that said landlords had the “right to inspect” units for “illegal drugs” without notice, and could require the testing for illegal drugs for all residents if “deemed necessary.”
Also of concern was whether all Chicagoans would have an equal opportunity to participate in the legal marijuana business – particularly communities of color.
One effort to help level the playing field was the state’s Social Equity program. It aims to help minority entrepreneurs in communities that have struggled with drugs and blight earn one of the 75 cannabis business licenses to be awarded in 2020.
The state will name the winners of those 75 additional licenses in May.
But some entrepreneurs said the state was not coming through on its promise with the Social Equity program. And many Chicagoans took issue with the fact that the 11 existing medical marijuana companies in Chicago that were to be allowed to immediately begin recreational sales on Jan. 1 are owned almost exclusively by white men.
In October, the City Council Black Caucus proposed delaying legal weed sales in the city for six months because of the latter complaint.
“It’s very critical that our communities have the parity and equity that is necessary for everybody to participate. This program started off, in our opinion, on the wrong foot, and we’re trying to correct that. We’re hopeful that the state will make some actions that make this equitable to all communities in our state. Not just one select group of individuals,” Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the Black Caucus, said in December.
But Mayor Lori Lightfoot said delaying legal weed sales will have several unintended consequences, such as shortchanging a “seed money” program for new marijuana businesses that would be funded from taxes on existing firms, fueling an illegal black market in Chicago, and pushing back the start of recreational pot sales until a time when police will be preparing for a traditional summer spike in violence.
Lightfoot also said Gov. Pritzker had already taken steps to increase minority participation in the pot industry, and had pledged to do more.
But the full City Council rejected the proposal by a vote of 29-19 following a heated debate. The Black Caucus itself also split over the vote, with six of its members – at Dowell (3rd), Michelle Harris (8th), Walter Burnett (27th), Chris Taliaferro (29th), Emma Mitts (37th), and Matthew Martin (47th) – voting against the delay.
Ald. David Moore (17th) – who voted for the delay – was so incensed by the fact the Black Caucus did not stand united in favor of the ordinance, he said he was resigning from the Black Caucus.
“I’m upset about many of the members of my Black Caucus, because at the end of the day, if we can’t stand for equity for black people, we don’t need a Black Caucus, and as of today David Moore is not in the Black Caucus,” he said at the December City Council meeting. “They’re going to have to show me why I should be in the Black Caucus, because if they can’t stand up for equity for minorities, then what are we fighting for?”
There were other efforts that sought to bring about social equity for the legal marijuana business – including one by a Los Angeles-based company that sought to help entrepreneurs who were getting left out due to the high cost.
The company 4thMVMT (“fourth movement”), is helping 30 hopefuls here in Chicago. The business will drop up to $2 million per applicant to help them get their foot within the cannabis door, under Illinois’ social equity clause.
And in Evanston, the revenues from legal marijuana will go toward a broader social effort – namely a reparations fund.
In November, the Evanston City Council approved a measure to direct the first $10 million in tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales to a reparations fund. The goal is to address the north suburban city’s decline in African-American residents and help African-Americans thrive in Evanston, among other issues.
Evanston Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) pointed to Evanston’s history of redlining, where neighborhoods were divided based on race and economics. The alderman believes the impact is still felt today.
The hope is that by allocating $10 million of marijuana tax revenue into the reparations fund, it will encourage minority business startups and help longtime residents like Walker – ultimately eliminating the wage disparity.
Illinois News Joint
Illinois News Joint is the premier resource for the Illinois cannabis industry
Opinion: Botched Illinois cannabis law creates silver lining
As mentioned in News Joint Grow Journal 2, the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (Illinois House Bill 1438) has forced registered medical patients into a gray area of the law because Illinois requires patients to purchase cannabis seeds from dispensaries. However, Illinois dispensaries have not and do not sell cannabis genetics (they’ve accidently sold seeds inside eighths of flower). The law also states that seeds, cuts, and clones are not to be gifted or exchanged between patients.
Essentially, Illinois has caused registered medical patients, who want to procure seeds and grow their own medicine, to become criminals or go without. Illinois legislatures are working on a solution to this snafu in the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, but in the meantime, the Illinois cannabis industry market has adjusted and moved forward, with or without the State of Illinois’ consent.
Why do dispensaries not sell seeds? Creating stable genetics takes time, extra space, and expert resources, and in general, dispensaries want patients to buy flower from their cultivators, not grow medicine for themselves. In addition, the law is not black and white in how Illinois dispensary, cultivators, and brands are to legally go about procuring and selling genetics.
“How do I get seeds?” is one of the most ask questions we receive from medical patients. The patients I know or have communicated with desperately want to follow the law but are confused by where and how to purchase legal seeds or overwhelmed by the amount of choices offered.
Plenty of breeders and seed banks exist in the Unites States and across the pond, but plenty of scammers also exist. “Non-cannafam” patients who just want to grow their own medicine do not know the intricacies of the “seed bank and breeder industry” or of international, federal, or Illinois laws regarding seeds. They just want to grow their own personalized medicine in peace.
Without the State of Illinois changing or even publicity addressing this flaw in the law, the cannabis industry market, as markets do, has moved on without the State of Illinois. The biggest silver lining to this botched part of the law is that the free market has found a better process and solution for patients to procure seeds than patients would have had if dispensaries sold genetics.
For the last twenty months, Illinois “grow shops” have filled the demand for seeds by stocking a wide variety of genetics for medical patients. The market’s solution to the flawed law, I believe, has worked out exponentially more beneficial for patients than dispensaries could have offered for the following reason:
- Selection: grow shops are offering a greater variety of selection than Illinois dispensaries would have been able to offer. And why would an Illinois patient want to continually grow strains that only Illinois offers? The point to growing your own medicine is to grow the exact strain the gives the patient the most relief.
- Quality: grow shops are offering top-notch genetics from the best breeders around. Patients don’t have to worry about the quality of the genetics, because grow shop owners and staff members are usually growers themselves and know the difference.
- Cheaper: It’s difficult to judge what prices Illinois dispensaries would charge for seeds, but if Illinois cannabis-product prices are any indication, then the grow shops are surely selling the genetics cheaper than patients would have had to pay at dispensaries.
- Better access: Now that grow shops carry genetics, patients do not have to order seeds online or through the mail and risk breaking the law, losing the seeds in delivery, scammers, and other complications. Grow shops are already strategically placed throughout Illinois and accessible to most Illinoisans, and each month new grow shops are opening.
- Supports local businesses: Grow shops are local. Most grow shops have been around and are well established in the community, often for longer than local dispensaries. Buying from grow shops invest not only in the community but also supports the “local grow community” that grow shops have already garnered, supported, and advocated for.
- Patient access to expertise: grow shops, as mention, are usually owned and staffed by medical patients who have experience growing their own medicine. Grow shops employees (with some exceptions I’m sure) better understand strain lineages and medical effects. We constantly hear about “patient specialist” at dispensaries incorrectly “weedsplaining” strains and effects to patients. Now image the advice a patient would get about genetics from a dispensary “specialist” who has never grown medicine. Getting bad advice on an eighth of flower is one thing. Image ruining a patient’s entire grow with bad advice.
- Patient support: growing is a long-term project, and grow shops can better supply follow up questions and solutions to problems for a patient’s first or one-hundredth grow. Grow shops also supply the exact equipment a patient needs to germinate, grow, and harvest medicine. Growing is a series of adjustment, and access to expertise and equipment is a great benefit.
- Grow community: maybe the most overlooked benefit of purchasing genetics at grow shops is the chance to become part of a local “grow community” to help expand knowledge, make new likeminded friends, and become an overall better grower. Legalization has offered the benefit of sharing classes and other sources on how to grow your own medicine that were not available even five years ago. Take advantage of it.
The frustration and contempt that seeps through this opinion piece, even when I am purposely trying not to, is not aimed toward the State of Illinois, legislatures, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, or Illinois Department of Agriculture. I’m a lifetime Illinoisan: born, raised, and educated. I expect Illinois to be Illinois.
This frustration and contempt spawns from empathy and concern I feel for fellow patients, who have been placed in an untenable situation. I have heard their confusion and frustration firsthand. Some have even felt intimidated by the law.
When I first started News Joint Grow Journal and ran across this problem, I wanted Illinois to fix it. I’ve changed my mind.
The market has spoken and fixed a problem for medical patients that Illinois itself created. Illinois and dispensaries now need to stay away from selling seeds, and Illinois should instead write into the law a legal way for patients, grow shops, breeders, and “the grow community” to continue what the they have already created. This market adjustment for patients already functions smoother than nearly every other aspect of the law.