A bill to legalize marijuana in Illinois is heading to the governor’s desk following a successful vote in the House of Representatives on Friday.
The legislation would allow individuals 21 and older to possess, consume and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. It also contains a number of social equity provisions, while at the same time giving existing medical cannabis businesses a leg up in the licensing process.
The House passed the bill in a 66 to 47 vote.
The win for legalization supporters comes two days after the Senate approved the legislation, 38 to 17.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said he will sign the bill into law, making Illinois the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana—but the first to regulate the adult-use cannabis industry through an act of lawmakers as opposed to via a voter-approved ballot measure.
“The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation,” he said in a Twitter post. “This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance.”
This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance. I applaud bipartisan members of the General Assembly for their vote on this legislation.
— Governor JB Pritzker (@GovPritzker) May 31, 2019
“In the interest of equity and criminal justice reform, I look forward to signing this monumental legislation,” Pritzker added.
In the interest of equity and criminal justice reform, I look forward to signing this monumental legislation.
— Governor JB Pritzker (@GovPritzker) May 31, 2019
(Vermont lawmakers passed legislation legalizing marijuana possession and home cultivation last year, but commercial sales remain prohibited.)
“By passing legalization through the legislative process Illinois has taken huge steps towards repairing some of the damages that cannabis prohibition and the war on drugs have had on communities of color,” Dan Linn, executive director of Illinois NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “This legalization bill is just one step in righting those wrongs but by no means is the end of this conversation.”
Under the proposal, people with prior possession convictions for 30 grams or less of cannabis would have their records expunged by the state attorney general after consideration by the Prisoner Review Board and a gubernatorial pardon, and those convicted of possession for greater than 30 grams but fewer than 500 grams could petition the courts for expungement.
“The Illinois Legislature has set a standard of excellence with this bill that other states seeking to pass similar legislation should follow,” Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Marijuana was at the heart of our nation’s disastrous war on drugs. This is a measure that will improve people’s lives on a level commensurate with the devastation wrought by prohibition.”
Taxes on cannabis sales would be based in part on THC concentration. Flower containing up to 35 percent THC would be taxed at 10 percent, whereas products with more than 35 percent THC would be taxed at 25 percent. Cannabis-infused products would be subject to a 20 percent tax. The state’s 6.25 percent sales tax would also apply, with local jurisdictions having the option to impose an additional 3.5 percent tax.
The tax revenue would go toward administrative costs associated with implementing the legal program as well as community grant programs, law enforcement operations, substance abuse centers and the state general fund.
Medical cannabis patients would be allowed to cultivate up to five plants for therapeutic purposes, which isn’t allowed under the state’s existing medical program. The bill initially allowed for any adult to legally grow their own marijuana at home, but it was amended to instead decriminalize cultivation of up to five plants for non-patients. Instead of jail time, the offense would be punishable by a $100-$200 fine.
Reform advocates celebrated the bill’s advancement, though some worry that giving current medical cannabis dispensaries priority to become licensed adult-use providers could undermine the legislation’s social equity provisions.
The state’s House Black Caucus remained concerned that the bill wouldn’t deliver enough for black-owned businesses in the lead up to the vote, according to Politico.
THIS JUST IN….Playbook hears the House Black Caucus still has concerns about the marijuana legislation heading to the House after getting Senate approval. At issue: not enough opportunity for black-owned businesses. Check in with this thread–focused today on Legislature news
— Shia Kapos (@ShiaKapos) May 30, 2019
But during the floor debate, one of the caucus members, Rep. Marcus Evans (D), made his support for the bill and its social equity provisions clear.
“I am a black man from the South Side of Chicago,” he said. The war on drugs has ravaged my community and impacted my family. I’ve had trepidation, but this bill warms my heart.”
Also at the debate, Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D) said that he couldn’t support the legislation, arguing that it would send the wrong message to young people. But before yielding, the lawmaker reenacted an infamous anti-marijuana campaign advertisement.
He pulled out an egg and said “this is your brain.” Then he cracked it on a frying pan and said “this is your brain on drugs.”
The bill would allow individuals who’ve lived in an area that has been disproportionately impacted by prohibition, or who’ve been convicted of an offense that could be expunged under the legislation, to apply for business licenses as social equity applicants. That designation would give them a leg up in the licensing process and provide for fee waivers.
The legislation would also create a $30 million low-interest loan program to help disadvantaged people pay for the startup costs of launching a cannabis business.
We legalized adult-use cannabis, creating the most equity-centric system in this nation which will right historic wrongs and reinvest in the communities that have suffered the most because of the War on Drugs. pic.twitter.com/4grMqIzG5E
— Governor JB Pritzker (@GovPritzker) June 2, 2019
“Illinois has put in place a set of equity provisions that should serve as a national model for other state legislatures grappling with how to redress the harm caused to communities targeted in the drug war,” Hawkins, of the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “The expungement remedy in the Illinois bill is truly historic. It will potentially clear the slate of over 750,000 cases, vastly exceeding any other state’s remedy on expungement for marijuana convictions.”
Under the proposed timeline for the rollout of the program, its provisions would take effect on January 1, 2020. Existing medical cannabis shops would have the advantage when it comes to securing licenses, and licenses for new dispensaries would have to be issued by May 1. Processors, craft growers and transporters would be licensed by July 1.
Pritzker made cannabis legalization a central tenet of his gubernatorial campaign last year. He said shortly after the election that passing legislation to end prohibition was something he wanted to do “right away,” but crafting and negotiating over the bill ultimately took several months.
He worked with lawmakers throughout the legislative process, finally revealing early details about the plan in early May.
Pritzker also included revenue from legalization in his budget proposal, arguing that creating a regulated market would stimulate job growth and bolster the economy. A separate analysis of the potential windfall from legalization estimated that Illinois would bring in over $500 million in tax revenue in the first year.
This story was updated to include comments from Pritzker.
Photo element courtesy of J.B. Pritzker.
Bipartisan Lawmakers Tell DEA To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House and Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department on Friday, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.
The letter, led by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), cites feedback from federal health agencies, which have said that existing restrictions on cannabis have inhibited research. One problem in particular is that there’s only one federally authorized manufacturer of research-grade marijuana.
While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that it is in the process of approving additional manufacturers, it’s been more than three years since they first announced that applications for more growers would be accepted and, more recently, the agency said it would have to develop alternative rules to approve proposals that have been submitted.
“At the same time, the status quo does not address a barrier to research raised by both [the National Institutes of Health] and [the Food and Drug Administration],” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter. That barrier is a ban on researchers being able to obtain marijuana from dispensaries.
“Both agencies recommended that researchers should be able to obtain cannabis from state-legal sources,” the letter states.
Today, @SenBrianSchatz and I sent a bipartisan letter to AG Barr, urging the DEA to amend current policies to improve research on cannabis.
It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.https://t.co/bfpPUhUvQf
— Rep. Harley Rouda (@RepHarley) December 6, 2019
Further, the lawmakers said that there are “problems in industry development of licensed drugs with data from products obtained from third-parties, such as the University of Mississippi.”
“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” they wrote.
“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions.”
The lack of chemical diversity in the federal government’s cannabis supply has been repeatedly pointed out. One study found that the research-grade cannabis is more similar to hemp than marijuana in commercial markets.
To resolve the research issues, the coalition made two recommendations: 1) to amend internal policy “so as to allow researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state authorized dispensaries for research purposes” and 2) issue guidance clarifying that hemp researchers do not need a DEA license to obtain and study hemp because it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
The letter requests a response from DEA by December 20.
A total of 21 members of Congress signed the letter, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA) Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).
“Our nation’s cannabis research laws are archaic,” Rouda said in a press release. “Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products.”
“I thank Senator Schatz, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for joining me to make this common-sense request,” he said. “It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.”
Attorney General William Barr received a similar letter from lawmakers about the need to expand the number of federally authorized marijuana cultivators in April.
Read the lawmakers’ full letter on expanding marijuana research below:
Oregon Activists Begin Signature Gathering For 2020 Drug Decriminalization Initiative
Oregon activists have begun collecting signatures for a statewide initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs.
Three months after petitioners quietly submitted the proposed ballot measure—titled the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” (DATRA)—the signature gathering process has started, with organizers deployed to Portland to raise support.
A long road lies before the activists, who need to collect 112,020 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Funding and polling will decide whether they mount a full push for the decriminalization measure in the months to come.
To that end, their efforts are being helped by David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, who told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he will be investing $250,000 in the decriminalization campaign. An additional $500,000 will go to a separate Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which backed Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, is also supporting this new effort to make low-level drug possession an infraction punishable by a $100 fine with no jail time, rather than a misdemeanor. It remains to be seen how involved in the campaign DPA will be, however.
Peter Zuckerman, a chief petitioner for the decriminalization initiative, told OregonLive on Thursday that it’s not guaranteed that the campaign will proceed and that much rides on how much money the group can raise, whether there’s public support for the reform move and how staff recruitment comes together.
He said the main thrust of the measure is to take a “health-based approach to drug addiction rather than a criminal justice-based approach.”
The proposal caught the attention of Oregon’s teachers’ union, which said that it supports decriminalizing drug possession but wrote in a comment submitted to the secretary of state in October that it was not taking an official position because it’s concerned about another provision that would shift cannabis tax revenue away from schools.
DATRA would make it so most of that revenue would be used to fund addiction treatment programs.
At the same time that activists are collecting signatures and weighing whether to move ahead with the broad decriminalization initiative, another advocacy group is pushing for a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use, allowing individuals to receive treatment with the psychedelic fungus at licensed health facilities. The group launched its signature drive in September.
Advocates in Portland are also hoping to advance a local measure to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics such as ayahuasca and ibogaine.
Bronner wrote in a blog post that the decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin legalization campaigns are “already coordinating closely and conserving resources on the statewide signature drive.”
He told Marijuana Moment that “we see this as the perfect one two punch in Oregon, legalizing psilocybin therapy that has so much promise for treating drug addiction, at the same time Oregon shifts to a treatment not jail approach.”
“And 100 percent confident it’s coming together,” he said.
All of this comes amid a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics, with activists in almost 100 cities across the U.S. considering pushing for reduced penalties for substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Decriminalize Nature, which is aiding in and tracking these efforts, is also receiving donations from Bronner, he said.
Decriminalization is also gaining traction on the national stage, with two presidential candidates—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—voicing support for the policy change. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, another candidate, recently said that he’s open to broad decriminalization, while entrepreneur Andrew Yang backs decriminalizing opioids.
North Dakota Activists Submit Measure To Legalize Marijuana In 2020
North Dakota activists submitted a measure to legalize marijuana for adult use to state officials on Thursday, an organizer confirmed to Marijuana Moment.
Legalize ND, the group behind the proposed statutory initiative, delivered the measure to the secretary of state’s office. It’s expected to be validated within days, after which point petitions will be distributed to collect signatures in support of qualifying for the 2020 ballot.
It’s been about a year since organizers began working on the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis for personal use. The proposal is more narrowly tailored than a legalization initiative from the same organization that voters rejected in 2018, however.
The previous version didn’t include any restrictions on cultivation or possession, and it didn’t involve a licensing scheme. By contrast, the new measure would prohibit home cultivation, limit possession to two ounces, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
“One of the largest complaints from last time was the mantra of ‘poorly written,'” Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “They targeted the lack of legal experience from our team and they targeted a lack of ‘qualified lawyers’ to be drafting language that would go into the state’s statutory law.”
But he said he’s confident the campaign will be successful this time around, in part because they spent months drafting the language with the North Dakota Legislative Council.
Asked what he’d say to voters still on the fence about legalization, Owen replied that it would depend on what their initial concerns were:
“If it’s a concern over home grow, well it’s simple, we don’t have that anymore. If it’s a concern of people having too much, we have a reasonable possession limit now—in their eyes, I still think possession limits are fundamentally arbitrary, but they wanted a possession limit so we have that now. If people go, ‘well what about the quality of the language?’ I can point to how it’s literally written by Legislative Council, so either every attorney who works for the state of North Dakota is incompetent or this is well written.”
In order to qualify for next year’s ballot, the group must collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6, 2020.
“I think the most important thing isn’t what it would do, but what it would stop from happening,” Owen told local radio station KFGO on Wednesday. “We currently have a system where people are unable to find a job because of a criminal record, we have a system where people are continuing to get marijuana charges and lose their housing, we have families being separated because of parents losing custody over their children for marijuana charges. That all stops when this is legalized.”
Listen to Owen’s radio interview about the new marijuana ballot measure below:
Internal polling that received outside funding, which Owen said cannot be publicly released because of the wishes of the donor, shows the initiative is “slightly ahead” among voters.
In an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment in February, Owen said that it’s “very probable that we can do it” this time around, but much of that depended on the extent to which opposition campaigns are involved and how much funding outside groups are able to offer.
Currently, North Dakota has a medical cannabis program, and the governor signed legislation in May decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.