CHICAGO (CBS) — Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday signed legislation making Illinois the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana, starting next year.
While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the new law marks a dramatic shift in the war on drugs in Illinois, allowing anyone over the age of 21 to buy, possess, and consume marijuana in Illinois, and effectively wiping clean past convictions for minor marijuana offenses.
Marijuana would only be sold at state-licensed dispensaries. Cultivation centers also would need licenses to grow marijuana, although medical marijuana patients could grow up to five plants at home for their personal use.
Pritzker called the state’s marijuana law a step in the right direction, especially for communities of color that have been most negatively impacted by the war on drugs.
“Studies have shown time and time again that black and white people tend to use cannabis at the same rates, but black people are far more likely to be arrested for possession,” he said. “Criminalization offers nothing but pain, disruption, and injustice. The legislators and activists standing with me today have heard you.”
Illinois was the first to legalize recreational marijuana through the legislature. Most other states that have legalized recreational pot did so through ballot initiatives.
Under the legislation approved by lawmakers in May, starting Jan. 1, 2020, marijuana will be legal for recreational use for Illinois residents and visitors who are 21 years old and over.
The law would allow Illinois residents to buy up to 30 grams of marijuana at a time. Non-residents could have up to 15 grams.
In addition to standard state and local sales taxes, the state would impose a 10% tax on all marijuana products with up to 35% THC, the chemical that gets marijuana users high. Marijuana products with THC concentrations of more than 35% would be taxed at 25%. Cannabis-infused products like edibles would be taxed at 20%.
Counties can add up to 3.75% for unincoprated areas and municipalities can add special taxes up to 3%.
The legislation also will effectively wipe clean previous small-time marijuana convictions.
The governor also will pardon all misdemeanor marijuana convictions involving less than 30 grams. Prosecutors or convicts could seek court orders to pardon and expunge records of convictions involving up to 500 grams.
Anyone with minor pending marijuana cases may petition the court to dismiss the charges and expunge the records.
“Today we are giving hundreds of thousands of people the chance at a better life,” Pritzker said.
In addition to providing criminal-record scrubbing for past low-level offenders, the law gives preference to would-be marijuana vendors in areas of high poverty and records of large numbers of convictions.
The state’s new tax revenue would first be allocated for administrative needs and costs incurred from the expungement process.
After those costs have been paid, the remaining tax revenue will be broken out as follows:
• 2% for public education and safety campaigns;
• 8% for law enforcement funds for prevention and training to be distributed through the Local Government Distributive Fund (LGDF) formula;
• 25% for Recover, Reinvest, and Renew (R3) Program to invest in communities hit hard by the war on drugs;
• 20% for programs that address preventative substance abuse programs and mental health services;
• 10% for the state’s backlog of unpaid bills;
• 35% to the state’s General Revenue Fund (GRF).
While the law allows for recreational use of marijuana by anyone 21 or older, it does not protect those people from possibly losing their jobs, homes and more.
“It is not a free ticket to go and buy marijuana and smoke it anywhere and anytime,” said attorney Larry Mishkin. “If you do that, you’ll face legal consequences.”
If the landlord of an apartment or home says no pot on the property, nothing changes due to the law.
“That can be grounds to have you evicted,” Mishkin said.
Businesses, colleges and universities also can ban the use of marijuana.
And the state legalizing pot does not mean employers have to sign off on use off the clock. Companies can choose to maintain zero-tolerance policies and continue to drug test employees for pot.
Smoking in public places in a big no-no, and violators can be ticketed. That includes streets, parks and school grounds. Use is also not allowed in a car, behind the wheel of a boat, near someone who isn’t 21 or around any public safety official. Violators could even be ticketed for smoking at home if there are people outside who can see.
Some law enforcement groups also have raised concerns about the increased risk of people driving while high.
The Illinois Sheriff’s Association said there is no roadside testing available for use by law enforcement in Illinois to test if a driver has been high or even is high in that moment.
In the last 30 days more than 14 million American drivers got behind the wheel within and hour of lighting up according to a new AAA report.
Pot affects reaction time and judgment, and the report claims those 14 million drivers were twice as likely to crash.
But the question remains: How will police test for marijuana impairment while driving?
When it comes to marijuana DUIs, there is no breathalyzer, no one-leg stand, no magic bullet.
A blood test is used, and five nanograms of THC in the blood stream is considered illegal here.
Legalization won’t change that.
“It’s always going to be problematic until law enforcement and employers are willing to adopt a test that measures impairment versus presence because once they use it, it stays in their system for up to 28 days,” Mishkin said.
The recreational marijuana law creates a DUI task force through Illinois State Police, with the goal of finding better roadside testing methods.