As the legislative session enters its final days, the senate in Illinois has voted to pass a recreational cannabis legalization bill after months of debate and modification. The bill now goes to the Assembly before being presented to Gov. Pritzker by the end of this month.
The bill has a number of provisions which are intended to promote social equity once the marijuana industry becomes fully legal. For example, the bill provides for the automatic expungement of previous convictions for the possession of less than an ounce (30 grams) of marijuana. Individuals who were convicted for possessing between 30-500 grams of marijuana can appeal to court for expungement, or the state’s attorney can petition court on behalf of those individuals.
One notable change which was made to the original bill regards the home cultivation of recreational marijuana. While the original bill provided for the home cultivation of up to five plants, the revised version changed that provision and only allowed patients on the medical marijuana program to grow up to five plants. The law under which medical marijuana became legal didn’t allow home grows.
The bill also decriminalizes low-level marijuana cultivation (five or fewer plants) by non-patients. This means that those found growing few plants will be fined up to $200 instead of serving a custodial sentence upon conviction.
The bill stipulates the taxes which different recreational marijuana products will attract. Cannabis flower whose THC content is less than 35 percent will attract a 10 percent tax while any cannabis products with more than 35 percent THC content will attract a 25 percent tax. Marijuana-infused drinks will face a 20 percent tax. The state will also impose an additional 6.5 percent sales tax, and local authorities will be free to impose an extra 3.5 percent tax on recreational marijuana products.
Under the bill, individuals who have convictions that qualify for expungement and those who live in areas described as disproportionately affected by the war on drugs qualify to be categorized as equity applicants as business license applications are considered. Such equity applicants qualify for extra points during the scoring process and they are also eligible for fee waivers.
Social equity applicants can also obtain a low-interest loan from a special $30 million fund created by this law to help such applicants to meet some of the costs associated with starting a marijuana business.
Sen. Heather Steans, the sponsor of the bill, described the proposed law as one which will set the gold standard for creating a cannabis industry which embraces diversity.
If the bill becomes law as planned, it will take effect on the first day of 2020. Dispensaries would receive licenses by May 1, 2020 while transporters, craft growers and processors would get their licenses by July 1.
Advocates have welcomed this bill saying that while it isn’t perfect, it is better than having prohibition extended for longer. What is now left is for the Assembly to consider and pass the bill so that it gets to the desk of the governor in time. VPR Brands LP (OTC: VPRB) and VIVO Cannabis Inc. (TSX.V: VIVO) (OTCQX: VVCIF) hope that nothing happens to derail the long-awaited legalization of recreational cannabis in Illinois.
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