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SPRINGFIELD — Recreational marijuana use and possession will be legal in Illinois beginning Jan. 1, 2020, after Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday in Chicago signed a bill supporters said is the “most equity-centric” legalization effort in the nation.

“This legislation lives true to the promise to bring justice, equity and opportunity throughout our state,” Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said. “By including components focused on repairing the harm caused by the failed war on drugs and decades of policies that caused mass incarceration — Illinois is a national leader with policy that’s a national model.”

Marijuana Legalization Illinois

Gov. J. B. Pritzker takes in the applause Tuesday before signing a bill that legalizes adult-use cannabis in the state of Illinois at Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center in Chicago. Illinois becomes the 11th state to legalize adult use of recreational marijuana.

The legalization effort made Illinois the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana but the first to pass a comprehensive legalization package through the legislature rather than a ballot initiative.

“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 during a signing ceremony at the Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center. “Legalizing adult-use cannabis brings an important and overdue change to our state, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Beginning Jan. 1, the law will allow for the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana per Illinois resident over the age of 21. Residents will also be able to possess up to five grams of cannabis concentrate and 500 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC — contained in a cannabis-infused product. Nonresidents can possess half those amounts.

Registered medical marijuana patients will be allowed to grow up to five cannabis plants in their home and possess more than 30 grams of marijuana if it is grown and secured in their residence.

The new law also includes expungement measures for those with low-level marijuana arrests and convictions. Roughly 700,000 records are eligible for expungement under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, Pritzker said.

“One of the things that we wanted to make sure we accomplished with legalization was ensuring we put social equity at the center and the heart of our efforts, acknowledging that while we normalize and legalize something that is happening across the country, that we tie the direct nexus to the communities that the prohibition has hurt the most,” said state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields.

Pritzker said those with arrests for less than 30 grams will have their records cleared through local law enforcement and the Illinois State Police, and those with convictions up to that amount will have their records referred to the Prisoner Review Board, which will make an expungement recommendation to the governor.

Those convicted of possessing between 30 and 500 grams could petition the courts for expungement through a more complex “motion to vacate” process.

Marijuana offenses connected to violent crime are ineligible for the automatic expungement processes, but the individual or state’s attorney can still file a motion with the court to vacate conviction.

“This legislation recognizes that to move forward and create a new cannabis industry, we have to mend the historic inequalities that have torn communities apart,” said Esther Franco-Payne, executive director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid. “Expunging the records of hundreds of thousands of people and making social equity at the center of this bill will change lives and revitalize communities.”

The measure directs 25% of legalization revenues to a newly-established Restore, Reinvest and Renew grant program to “help communities most disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs,” Pritzker said.

The bill also creates a $30 million low-interest loan program to defray the start-up costs associated with entering the licensed cannabis industry and establishes a “social equity applicant” status for licensing aimed at generating more minority participation in the legalized industry.

The new law also establishes a DUI Cannabis Task Force; regulates advertising, packaging and location of cannabis businesses near public spaces, including schools and parks; and allows local governments to regulate the location of a cannabis business and home grow.

Legalization will generate revenue through a 7% tax on the gross receipts from the sale of marijuana by a cultivator and an excise tax on the purchaser. Marijuana with a THC level at or below 35% would pay a 10% tax; while products over that amount of THC would be taxed at 25%. A 20% tax would apply to marijuana-infused products.

The tax does not apply for marijuana purchased by licensed medicinal patients.

The Illinois Department of Revenue projects that this industry will generate more than $57 million in tax revenue and licensing fees in fiscal year 2020. In tax revenue alone, legalization is expected to generate $140.5 million in fiscal year 2021; $253.5 million in FY22; $323.5 million in FY23; and $375.5 million in FY24.

Legalization is expected to generate as much as $500 million each year when the industry is fully mature. For the first year, most of the revenue is expected to come from licensing fees for marijuana cultivators, processors, transporters and sellers.

After regulatory expenses are accounted for, the bill dedicates 35% of legalization revenues to the general revenue fund; 20% to address substance abuse, prevention and mental health concerns; 10% to pay down the bill backlog; 8% to local governments to support crime prevention programs and interdiction efforts relating to the illegal cannabis market and driving under the influence of cannabis; and 2% for a public education campaign and analysis of the public health impacts of legalization.

Police organizations are wary, concerned about enforcing driving under the influence laws and arguing technology for testing marijuana impairment needs more development. Law enforcement organizations were successful in killing an earlier provision that would have allowed anyone to grow up to five marijuana plants at home for personal use. Police said they'd have difficulty enforcing that, so the bill was amended to allow five plants to be maintained only by authorized patients under the state's medical marijuana law. They previously could not grow their own.

Ten other states and the District of Columbia have legalized smoking or eating marijuana for recreational use since 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington state approved ballot initiatives. Vermont and Michigan last year were the latest states to legalize marijuana. Vermont did so through the Legislature, the first time it wasn't done through a ballot initiative, but didn't establish a statewide marketplace as Illinois did.

Pritzker's successful campaign for governor capitalized on growing public sentiment that law enforcement has better things to do than chase pot-smokers and that state government could benefit by regulating and taxing the product as it does alcohol and tobacco.

— John O'Connor of the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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