• Illinois is the latest state to legalize recreational cannabis but are doing things different from the other ten legal states
  • The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act aims to help the state with reparations where low-income colored communities will benefit from cannabis industry revenue
  • Those living in damaged areas will be given shortcuts that waive fees and avoid some red tape to enter the cannabis industry

What Happened

On June 25, 2019, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act which legalizes recreational cannabis throughout the state. The legislation’s two main sponsors were Representative Kelly Cassidy and Senator Heather Steans, both Democrats from Chicago.

What Does This Law Mean

It will be legal for residents over the age of 21 to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis. Cannabis will only be sold out of approved, licensed dispensaries. Once these dispensaries are licensed and established they can begin selling when the law goes into effect on January 1, 2020. Until January 1, possession of cannabis still remains a crime. Illinois’ 55 medical cannabis dispensaries will have first dibs at obtaining a recreational license. They will be able to apply to dispense recreational cannabis at their current medical dispensary but also have the option to open a second location, which means Illinois could gain up to 55 more dispensaries. In October the state will allow an application period for 75 new dispensaries. After that, no new dispensaries will be allowed to open until after the state conducts a review.

Illinois Will Expunge 770,000 Cannabis Convictions

Along with legalizing recreational cannabis, the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act will also expunge the criminal records of 770,000 residents of Illinois with marijuana-related offenses for up to 30 grams of cannabis. Those with charges ranging from 30 to 500 grams will have to petition the court to have the charge expunged. Expungement means the criminal conviction is “sealed” or erased in the eyes of the law. Once a conviction is expunged, the person will no longer need to list the conviction when filling out an application for a job or a rental property. In most situations, an expunged arrest or conviction will not appear when a potential employer or educational institute conducts a public records search of an individual’s criminal record.

Restore Reinvest and Renew Program

It is no secret that low-income communities of color have been the most impacted by the War on Drugs, which cannabis played a large roll in ever since the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 made the plant illegal in America. Illinois has carved out a full 25 percent of the revenue from cannabis to restore those areas as part of the “Restore, Reinvest, and Renew Program,” also known as “R3.” Pritzker stated the war on cannabis “destroyed families filled prisons with nonviolent offenders, and disproportionately disrupted black and brown communities.”

The war on cannabis has destroyed families, filled prisons with nonviolent offenders, and disproportionately disrupted black and brown communities. Law enforcement across the nation has spent billions of dollars to enforce the criminalization of cannabis, yet its consumption remains widespread.

Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker

Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth (D) termed the R3 program’s community reinvestment as only part of the bill’s “reparations.” There is a high economic barrier to enter the industry of legally selling cannabis. Legal sales around the country have created an industry where profits are mainly consumed by those already wealthy enough to be professional investors. Booth says they are using this policy to place reparations for black and brown people as a high priority unlike what any other recreational state has ever done.

What we are doing here is about reparations. After 40 years of treating entire communities like criminals, here comes this multibillion-dollar industry, and guess what? Black and brown people have been put at the very center of this policy in a way that no other state has ever done.

Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth

Along with investing back into the damaged communities, legislators who crafted Illinois’ legalization legislation did not want to ignore the high costs of getting into the cannabis industry. For many who have lived in the damaged areas the fees to enter the industry are simply unattainable. That is why the state will waive half of the application fees for any long-term resident of a “disproportionately impacted area” (DIA) or if they have been incarcerated for a minor cannabis crime eligible for expungement. There are also “social equity applicants” (SEAs) where a person can cite a direct family member’s incarceration for cannabis as grounds to cut through much of the red tape surrounding the cannabis industry. SEAs that receive a license to grow will also be eligible for special low-interest loans from the state, direct grant aid for start-up costs and other booster seat mechanisms.

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