Pot to be legal here in 2020: Link to podcast

Pritzker signs cannabis bill into law, praises legislative work done by ‘Marijuana Moms’

Gov. Pritzker brandishes the signed legalization law, joined by state legislators Jehan Gordon-Booth, Heather Steans, Toi Hutchinson, and Kelly Cassidy. (Twitter/Jim Roberts)

Gov. Pritzker brandishes the signed legalization law, joined by state legislators Jehan Gordon-Booth, Heather Steans, Toi Hutchinson, and Kelly Cassidy. (Twitter/Jim Roberts)

By Ted Cox

Adult-use recreational cannabis will be legal in Illinois with the new year in 2020.

Gov. Pritzker signed the legalization bill into law Tuesday, thanking the four lead sponsors, who have become known as the “Marijuana Moms,” for their efforts to put the bill together and get it passed through the General Assembly: Sens. Heather Steans and Toi Hutchinson and Reps. Kelly Cassidy and Jehan Gordon-Booth.

Calling it “the most equity-centric cannabis legalization in the nation,” Pritzker said it would amount to a “sea change” in Illinois state law, “especially for communities of color.”

In addition to making Illinois the 11th state to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older, the bill provides various remedies for citizens and communities that bore the brunt of the so-called War on Drugs. It provides relief for 700,000 state residents with marijuana convictions: 400,000 eligible for automatic expungement or pardons from the governor, 300,000 who can pursue expungement through motions to vacate in the courts.

Both Pritzker and Gordon-Booth pointed out many living with the stigma of pot convictions also face painful restrictions on hiring and housing — restrictions that should be stripped away with the new law.

It eases ownership and licensing provisions for those who qualify as a “social equity applicant,” and a quarter of state revenue on cannabis taxation will be rolled back into neighborhoods through the Criminal Justice Information Projects Fund, in support of the newly created Restore, Reinvest and Renew Grant Program.

“This is about economic justice,” Gordon-Booth said. “This is about criminal-justice reform. This is about reparations. This is about a new chapter.

“This historic legislation will right the wrongs of the past and truly serve as a model for other state legislatures as they look for an equity-centric approach to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis,” added the Peoria Democrat. “The communities that have suffered through the War on Drugs will now have an opportunity to enter a new market and be successful.”

At the signing ceremony Tuesday in Chicago’s West Side Austin neighborhood, typical of the areas statewide that should benefit, Pritzker emphasized how Illinois became the first state to legalize pot through a legislative process — not as a referendum, where the legal details then had to be worked out afterward.

“As the first state in the nation to fully legalize adult-use cannabis through the legislative process, Illinois exemplifies the best of democracy — a bipartisan and deep commitment to better the lives of all of our people,” Pritzker said. “Legalizing adult-use cannabis brings an important and overdue change to our state, and it’s the right thing to do. This legislation will clear the cannabis-related records of nonviolent offenders through an efficient combination of automatic expungement, gubernatorial pardon, and individual court action. I’m so proud that our state is leading with equity and justice in its approach to cannabis legalization and its regulatory framework. Because of the work of the people here today and so many more all across our state, Illinois is moving forward with empathy and hope.”

The first people he thanked were the four women who crafted the legislation and got it through the General Assembly. They actually discussed the process the night before at a recording of Becky Carroll’s podcast “The Broad Cast” in the EvolveHer offices in Chicago.

For Steans, of Chicago, it grew out of her research on medical marijuana. “We really should just be legalizing it,” she recalled saying at the time. “Prohibition simply does not work.”

Cassidy, also a Chicago resident, said the element of social equity in the law was identified early on as critical. She repeated her statement that it was “the hill I’m willing to die on,” and the others felt the same.

“The nut to crack is the social-equity piece of it,” Steans said, adding she considered it a three-legged stool resting on expungement, diversity in ownership and licenses, and returning revenue to communities harmed by the War on Drugs. All cited how Pritzker — who had campaigned on legalization — readily agreed to back social equity as a key element of the final bill.

The four women said it was no accident that the groundbreaking legislation was not crafted by men.

“We tend to be a lot more collaborative,” said Hutchinson, of south-suburban Olympia Fields.

Cassidy said that, while the majority of the public was clearly in support, “politicians evolve a lot more slowly than humans do.”

In the pressurized crucible that turned out to be the General Assembly this spring — especially in the last few days of the legislative session — they said their personal commitment to each other is what pulled them through.

“The four of us already had this relationship,” Cassidy said. “We already had a real foundation of trust and friendship.”

“Really, it’s all about trust,” Steans said. “Springfield can be a trust-challenged environment.”

“There’s no other group of women I would have wanted to be in the soup with than these women,” Hutchinson said.

Sen. Toi Hutchinson and Rep. Kelly Cassidy credited their trust and friendship with getting the groundbreaking bill through the General Assembly. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Sen. Toi Hutchinson and Rep. Kelly Cassidy credited their trust and friendship with getting the groundbreaking bill through the General Assembly. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Again, they praised Pritzker for embracing the social-equity element early, as well as Senate President John Cullerton for providing consistent support. They also praised Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx for lobbying legislators on the meaning and logistics of expungement.

The resistance they faced was not always predictable.

“There was no major African-American group calling on us to do this,” Hutchinson said, adding that she was personally pained by the opposition of the NAACP — an organization she’d long respected.

And they cited how in the end they were able to garner bipartisan support.

On Tuesday, Rep. David Welter, a Morris Republican, applauded legalization. “Today is an affirmation of individual liberty. Adult use of cannabis should be a personal choice,” he said. “Beyond that, I am proud of our commitment that 20 percent of the revenue generated by legalization will go toward funding for mental health and substance-abuse services in Illinois. An additional 10 percent will go to pay down the state’s backlog of unpaid bills, which directly benefits hospitals, health care, and social-service providers in every community across the state.”

The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2020, when those 21 and older will be able to go into a dispensary and buy up to 30 grams of cannabis “flower,” or what most people recognize as weed, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate, or oils, or 500 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol, the active chemical in marijuana, in cannabis-infused products, such as what’s commonly referred to as edibles.

Although legalization is expected to provide a boost to state tourism, out-of-state residents will be limited to half those amounts.

The state will tax 7 percent on wholesale cultivators, and a range of 10 to 25 percent on retail depending on the concentrated strength of the product. Some 35 percent of revenues will go to the General Revenue Fund, the aforementioned 25 percent to the Criminal Justice Information Projects Fund, in support of the Restore, Reinvest and Renew Grant Program created with the law, the aforementioned 20 percent to the Department of Human Services Community Services Fund to treat mental health and substance abuse, 10 percent for unpaid state bills, 8 percent to local governments for law enforcement, and 2 percent to the Drug Treatment Fund.

It also creates “a $30 million low-interest-loan program to defray the start-up costs associated with entering the licensed cannabis industry,” according to a news release put out by the Governor’s Office, as well as a Cannabis Task Force to deal with driving under the influence.

“I am proud to say that, by working with hundreds of stakeholders and spending years seeking community input, we have crafted the most just, well-regulated cannabis plan in the country,” Steans said. “This law keeps our children safe by prioritizing public safety, includes extensive restorative justice measures, and brings in much-needed revenue for our state. I am thankful to all of my colleagues who stayed with me in this fight and to Gov. J.B. Pritzker for making it law.”

“This team effort sets a new standard for what cannabis reform can look like when undertaken with an openness to tough discussions, a commitment to strong outcomes, and a willingness to do the hard work together,” Cassidy added. “We set out to do this differently and we did, because we stuck to those principles. The result is historic and full of promise that I intend to ensure we deliver on.”

All emphasized this is not the end of the matter, and that marijuana laws will continue to be tweaked and adjusted — just as alcohol laws are.

“The Broad Cast” podcast episode on “The Marijuana Moms” that taped Monday night should be released later this week, via iTunes, Sound Cloud, and the website for Carroll’s C-Strategies communications firm.

Becky Carroll is a board member of One Illinois.

State legislators Toi Hutchinson, Kelly Cassidy, Heather Steans, and Jehan Gordon-Booth discuss their efforts to pass legalization on the “Marijuana Moms” episode of “The Broad Cast” podcast with co-hosts Jennifer Lee (left) and Becky Carroll (right) Monday in Chicago. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

State legislators Toi Hutchinson, Kelly Cassidy, Heather Steans, and Jehan Gordon-Booth discuss their efforts to pass legalization on the “Marijuana Moms” episode of “The Broad Cast” podcast with co-hosts Jennifer Lee (left) and Becky Carroll (right) Monday in Chicago. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)