Illinois’ Historic Marijuana Law: The 11th State To Legalize Recreational Use Could Use The Money

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Written by Dana Sanchez
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Photo: tortuga767/flickr

Illinois just pulled off what New York and New Jersey couldn’t, approving the most progressive cannabis law in the U.S. while legislators in the more eastern states made the process of legalizing recreational marijuana sound like pulling shark’s teeth.

“Illinois just made New York and New Jersey look like dorks,” read a headline in Forbes. “For whatever reason, lawmakers in that part of the country are confused about how to establish a taxed and regulated pot market while also keeping the social equity aspect in mind,” wrote Mike Adams, a Forbes contributor.

African Americans have been arrested for decades on marijuana charges at rates disproportionate to the rest of the population.

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Lawmakers in New York wanted assurances that those sins would be redressed, asking for minority communities to benefit if recreational marijuana becomes legal there, New York Times reported.

Those efforts failed. In New York, there was disagreement over a proposal to set aside fixed percentages of marijuana tax revenue for communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

Ten states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. None of them took steps to ensure that minority communities would share in the economic windfall of legalizing a potentially $3 billion industry. It’s a missed opportunity to redress years of racism and inequality.

In Illinois, the bill allows for previous convictions to be erased involving amounts of marijuana less than 30 grams. Legalization could generate as much as $500 million in new annual revenue for the financially troubled state, Reuters reported.

“In the interest of equity and criminal justice reform, I look forward to signing this monumental legislation,” Democratic Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said in a statement.

Illinois is the first state where a legislature approved commercial sales. It will be the second state to legalize small amounts of marijuana for adult use solely through the legislative process. Vermont did so in 2018. Since 2012, voters in nine states and Washington, D.C. approved legalization measures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.  

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he does not think legalizing recreational marijuana will pass before lawmakers adjourn for the year, Chicago Tribune reported.

In 2017, CNN Money described Illinois as America’s most messed up state. It was on the verge of becoming the first state with a junk credit rating. The financial mess was the result of spending more on pensions and services than the state could afford — then covering it up with reckless budget tricks, Matt Egan wrote for CNN.

The budget crisis forced Illinois to raise property taxes so high that people left in droves. Today, Illinois’ BBB-minus rating from S&P Global Ratings is just a notch above junk.

Supporters expect legalizing marijuana in Illinois will generate revenue to help restore poverty- and crime-ridden communities and fund substance abuse, mental health and law enforcement services, Chicago Tribune reported.

Sales will be taxed at 10 percent for THC levels at or less than 35 percent; 20 percent for cannabis-infused products such as edibles; and 25 percent for THC concentrations of more than 35 percent. On top of that, state and local sales taxes will apply. Municipalities can add special taxes of up to 3 percent, counties can add up to 3.75 percent in unincorporated areas, and Cook County may add up to 3 percent.

Cha-ching.

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