Governor unveils plan to legalize marijuana use

IFB policy opposes recreational use of the drug.

The revenue from recreational marijuana licenses was included in Gov. J.B. Pritzker's budget plan. (Illinois Farm Bureau file photo)

By Kay Shipman

Gov. J.B. Pritzker revealed a plan to legalize marijuana a few days before the General Assembly returned from spring break.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, the governor announced a 522-page plan to make marijuana use legal, starting in 2020. Illinois Farm Bureau opposes the plan, which is now contained in SB 7 (Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago), because IFB policy opposes the use, production and distribution of marijuana for recreational purposes.

Under the plan, adults 21 and older could legally buy marijuana for recreation from state-licensed marijuana businesses. The plan would not impact the state’s existing medical marijuana program.

Illinois residents could possess up to about 1 ounce of marijuana, with nonresidents limited to about a half-ounce. The proposal also specifies the amounts of marijuana concentrate and tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, levels in cannabis-infused products.         

As a potential state revenue source, legal marijuana would generate millions in license fees alone for fiscal year 2020 and was included in the governor’s budget plan.

A new cannabis-regulation fund was proposed to receive marijuana revenue with state agencies, including the Illinois Department of Agriculture, responsible for administering the program to receive money from the fund.

Of the remaining tax revenue, 35 percent would go to the General Revenue Fund, 10 percent would be used to pay down the bill backlog, 20 percent would support mental health and substance abuse programs at county health departments, 8 percent would be used for a law enforcement grant program and 2 percent for a drug treatment fund. One-fourth of the revenue would create a new ‘Restoring Our Communities’ fund. That fund would distribute grants to communities “that have suffered the most because of discriminatory drug policies,” according to a Pritzker press release.

A major part of the cannabis plan focuses on criminal justice issues, especially automatic removal of some marijuana convictions for possession, manufacturing, delivering and growing marijuana.

The proposal also establishes a $20 million program of low-interest loans for “qualified social equity applicants” to reduce the cost of starting a licensed marijuana business.

“From the outset, I made clear that any plan for adult-use cannabis had to prioritize social justice and equity, and the approach we’re taking starts righting some historic wrongs and opening up access to this new market with a $20 million loan program that will help qualified applicants from impacted communities,” Pritzker said in a prepared statement.

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