Politics & Government

In historic vote, House approves legislation to legalize marijuana in Illinois

Watch the marijuana vote in the Illinois House

The Illinois House of Representatives on Friday, May 31, passed legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana. Here is how the vote came in. 60 votes were needed to pass.
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The Illinois House of Representatives on Friday, May 31, passed legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana. Here is how the vote came in. 60 votes were needed to pass.

In a vote that has historic cultural significance, the Illinois House on Friday approved a bill that would legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

Illinois becomes the 11th state, plus Washington, D.C., to legalize the drug, capping decades of work by marijuana supporters to get to this day. However, local municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana.

The House vote was not close 66-47 — and came on the last day of the regular legislative session. The Illinois Senate approved the measure on Wednesday by a 38-17 vote.

The legislation goes to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has said he will sign it and estimated $170 million could come into the state from marijuana legalization. However under the proposal moved forwarded by legislators, it would only produce $58 million in general revenue in the coming budget year.

In the second year, there would be $140 million in revenue and up to $500 million when the program is “fully mature,” said state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago.

Medical marijuana is already legal in Illinois.

Illinois would join Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C., as places that allow recreational marijuana.

Area representatives voted along party lines, with all of the Democrats voting in favor, and Republicans opposing the measure. All remained on the House floor after the vote and were not immediately available for comment.

Marijuana would be limited to people 21 years and older, and individuals would be limited to 30 grams of cannabis flower, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate, and 500 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product.

Under recent changes, only those who have marijuana for medical purposes would be able grow up to five plants taller than 5 inches at home. The plants must be kept on their residential property in a closed and locked space away from public view that is also reasonably inaccessible by a person under 21 years of age.

People who have convictions of possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana could have their records expunged, but it would be through the governor’s clemency process. For people convicted of having between 30 and 500 grams, the state’s attorney or an individual can petition the court to vacate the conviction.

Money generated from taxing recreational marijuana would be split among different uses:

2 percent for public education and safety campaigns

8 percent for law enforcement funds for prevention and training to be distributed through the Local Government Distributive Fund

25 percent for a Recover, Reinvest, and Renew Program, which would target high-need, underserved communities in the state

20 percent for programs that address preventative substance abuse programs and mental health services

10 percent for the bill backlog

35 percent to the state’s General Revenue Fund.

Under the proposal, employers would be allowed to maintain a zero drug tolerance workplace, and landlords could restrict tenants from possessing or consuming marijuana products on their property.

There also would be a DUI study with law enforcement under the legislation.

State Sen. Rachelle Aud Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, who previously worked as an assistant state’s attorney in Madison County, was among the senators to vote “no” on the measure. She said her experiences with driving under the influence cases was in the back of her mind during the vote.

“They worked hard on the bill and (as) it came along, there are a lot of things I think that make sense, but it ultimately came down to that road side testing just not being court validated yet,” Crowe said.

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, who ultimately voted “yes,” raised concerns that Cook County would be able to tax marijuana up to 3 %, but other counties would be limited to 0.75%, which she said was unfair to the rest of the state.

Bill sponsor state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said the discrepancy would be fixed in a trailer bill.

“I don’t represent Cook County. I represent Madison County and St. Clair County,” Stuart said. “Ultimately every county across the state of Illinois would have the opportunity, if they so choose, to enact up to same level of taxation.”

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, on Friday, May 31, 2019, discusses the ability of counties to tax marijuana as part of the cannibas legalization bill. Joseph Bustos jbustos@bnd.com

Crowe and Stuart’s metro-east colleague, state Sen. Chris Belt, D-Cahokia, voted “yes” on the measure, touting the social equity program that ensures that minority communities are able to access grants and loans to cover the up-front costs of participating in the marijuana industry.

“Minorities have suffered for years from aggressive enforcement of cannabis possession laws,” Belt said. “This has been devastating for minority communities and I hope that the social equity program guarantees their involvement in the industry.”

As more and more states legalize marijuana, the popular opinion in Southern Illinois is that the drug should be legal in the Land of Lincoln, too.

One of those “yes” votes was state Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, who worked with members of the house black caucus on issues including marijuana legalization and economic initiatives that pertain to communities of color. She pointed out that a percentage of the revenues would go to communities of color and opportunities for minorities interested in going into the industry, including programs to teach people how to get into the business.

There are dollars allocated for state agencies to raise awareness about dangers of driving under the influence of drugs, similar to drunk driving dangers, as well as the dangers of extended use of marijuana, Greenwood said. She added she spoke to the governor’s staff leading up to the vote.

“One of the things I talked about are the communities I represent, the impact and the devastation we have experienced, not just with violence, unemployment, and the educational system,” Greenwood said. “I represent two cities that are considered some of the poorest and some of the most distressed cities. I felt that was very important that the governor and this administration pay attention to that and be very intentional about plans going forward about how we’re going to address those issues in those communities.”

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, voted “no” on the measure.

“I’m still not convinced the cost will not be more,” Meier said. “People with mental disabilities, the way it affects them, you’ll have a lot more problems. I think it will cost the state a lot more money than it will bring in. It just wasn’t there yet. Medical marijuana has been good, but it’s very well regulated, and I just don’t think we’re there yet.”

State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, voted “no” on the measure.

“I believe we’re setting up a future generation for serious health problems, I am, (and) will continue to be ‘No’ on this bill,” Bryant said during a committee hearing on the bill.

How metro-east legislators voted

State Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Cahokia: Yes

State Sen. Rachelle Crowe, D-Glen Carbon: No

State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville: No

State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo: No

State Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey: Yes

State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis: Yes

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea: Yes

State Rep: Charlie Meier, R-Okawville: No

State Rep: Nathan Reitz, D-Steeleville: No

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville: Yes

State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City: No

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.