By Dee Longfellow

For The Elmhurst Independent

 

Some people have been waiting since Jefferson Starship was Jefferson Airplane.

Ready and waiting This truck sits outside the Mindful Medical Marijuana Dispensary-Illinois located at 1433 W Fullerton Ave., Suite C, in Addison, awaiting the new legislation legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Actually, this facility will not be opening until late in the spring. The first open dispensary in Addison is EarthMed Medical Marijuana & Cannabis Dispensary at 852 So. Westgate St., which expects to open right away.

Beginning January 1, 2020, Illinois state law will allow for the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana per Illinois resident over the age of 21 to be used recreationally. 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. Non-residents 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. (That’s right, medical patients can grow it at their home, not recreational users.)

 

History of marijuana in Illinois

Illinois legalized marijuana use for certain medical conditions under a pilot program enacted in 2013. Three years later, lawmakers decriminalized possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana—about one-third of an ounce—lowering the offense from a misdemeanor to a civil offense that carries a $100 to $200 fine.

It remains a criminal offense under federal law.

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. Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker is especially proud of that fact.

“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 at a signing ceremony held at the Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, near Oak Park. “Legalizing adult-use cannabis brings an important and overdue change to our state, and it’s the right thing to do.”

 

Regulations that affect consumers

While marijuana consumption and possession may be legal, there are still restrictions. Illinois lawmakers crafted a comprehensive 610-page regulatory bill with bipartisan support, which includes several conditions.

Consumption in public places will still be prohibited and local governments will maintain control as to whether the industry can conduct business within their jurisdictions. Some communities within the Independent readership area have already declined to allow dispensaries.

Consumption is allowed at a private residence but prohibited in any public place and in the proximity of a person younger than 21 years of age who is not a licensed medical patient. Landlords can prohibit marijuana use on their premises as well.

Anyone operating a car, boat or plane is prohibited from consuming marijuana, although possession is permissible in a motor vehicle if the marijuana product is placed in a secured, sealed container and “reasonably inaccessible” while the vehicle is moving.

Consumption and possession are prohibited at corrections facilities and on school grounds unless for licensed medical use. Consumption by a school bus driver, police officer, firefighter or corrections officer is also prohibited while they are on duty. Consumption is not allowed at any residence that serves as a child-care facility.

Local governments maintain authority under the new law as well, but they cannot ban individual possession of marijuana or marijuana products. A unit of government may, however, prohibit or significantly limit a cannabis business establishment’s location within its jurisdiction.

Governments at the local level can also decide if on-premise consumption is allowed at marijuana-related businesses within their jurisdiction. The new law allows local governments to exempt these facilities from limitations in the Smoke Free Illinois Act.

Municipalities can also enact zoning restrictions pertaining to licensed cultivation centers, craft growers, processing organizations and dispensaries. Despite local control, the law requires at least 1,500 feet between each retail operation.

Colleges and universities may continue to prohibit marijuana use on campus in accordance with federal regulations. Further, any business may prohibit use on private property.

Licensed medicinal patients will be able to grow up to five cannabis plants in their own homes, unless the property is rented. In that case they would need written consent from the property owner.

The new law also allows employers to continue to maintain drug-free workplaces and zero-tolerance drug-use policies, provided they are non-discriminatory. Employers will also maintain the right to discipline or fire an employee for violating workplace drug policies.

 

Help with business start-up costs

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

 

Cannabis Task Force

The new law also establishes a DUI Cannabis Task Force, which will regulate advertising, packaging and location of cannabis businesses near public spaces, especially schools and parks. Local governments can regulate the location of a cannabis business.

 

What about those already convicted?

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, according to Governor Pritzker.

Pritzker said those with arrests for less than 30 grams will have their records cleared through local law enforcement and the Illinois State Police. 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.

 

Positive effect on social equity?

Some legislators and community leaders are sticking to the belief that the legalization of recreational marijuana will assist blighted communities by revitalizing them by creating jobs and increasing economic impact.

“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, a Democrat from Olympia Fields.

“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 percent 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.

Of course, legislators who opposed the measure disagree about the positive effects of legalization. Illinois State Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican, had this to say:

“If you legalize it, usage is going to go up. That’s been the experience of all the other states that have done this. When usage goes up, abuse will go up, and there will be more people landing on the doorsteps of drug treatment providers across this state—drug treatment providers who will tell you we have more people than we can serve and we do not have enough money.”

Others argue that recreational marijuana users do not typically end up in drug treatment facilities, only users of harder drugs. One study conducted in New Zealand, where marijuana is illegal, said those who become “dependent” on cannabis most frequently faced financial difficulties, or trouble in the workplace or in personal relationships, rather than a physical toll on their body.

 

Follow the money: the “real” reason

Many suspect the “real” reason behind the measure is simple: Illinois is in dire financial straits and needs to make money in a big way to rise above its crippling debt, especially with its pension obligations and the state’s crumbling infrastructure. Pritzker’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes $170 million in new revenue from licensing cultivators and dispensaries.

Legalization is expected to generate revenue through a 7 percent 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 percent would pay a 10 percent tax; while products over that amount of THC would be taxed at 25 percent. A 20 percent tax would apply to marijuana-infused products. The tax does not apply for marijuana purchased by licensed medicinal patients.

 

An expert weighs in

Industry expert Chris Stone, CEO of HCI Alternatives in Springfield, felt legal recreational marijuana was inevitable after Illinois lawmakers approved medical marijuana back in 2013, but agrees it’s more about the money.

Stone said he’d like to think that lawmakers are changing how they view marijuana, but admits it’s more likely the hundreds of millions of tax dollars each year that drove the legalization.

“We live in a state that doesn’t have what I would consider a balanced budget. It’s probably $3 billion out of whack,” Stone said. “We live in a state that hasn’t had a capital bill to be able to build roads and bridges in almost 10 years. These are the things that definitely move the needle in terms of a recreational program, especially if you look at other states.”

If you add marijuana sales, tourism dollars, and the money that police departments and jails would save by not having to arrest and prosecute marijuana crimes, Stone said recreational marijuana could be worth as much as $1 billion a year to the state of Illinois.

 

Now for the BIG numbers…

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.

 

The local scene…

At this time, only 35 stores have been authorized to open in the entire state. One report said that means one store for every 28,000 of the estimated 1 million potential users. If Illinois follows the pattern of the 10 other states that have legalized commercial sales, consumers can expect long lines and short supplies at least at the beginning.

As of Jan. 1, the Village of Addison is poised to be first in the sale of recreational marijuana in the area. There are two dispensaries in Addison, but one will not be offering recreational marijuana for sale until later in the spring.

The Independent paid a visit to Mindful Medical Marijuana Dispensary-Illinois located at 1433 W Fullerton Ave., Suite C, in Addison, but was told the location would not be selling product until later in the spring.

EarthMed Medical Marijuana & Cannabis Dispensary, at 852 So. Westgate St. in Addison, has been preparing for the expected onslaught of new customers after Jan. 1. The Independent dropped by EarthMed, but it was in the midst of a whirlwind of building and expanding the location. The facility has been adding more space not only for products and new customers, but also for the number of employees it plans to increase from 12 to more than 30.

The owners of EarthMed, Mike Perez and Gus Koukoutsakis, were quoted as saying they had been trying to stock up on product prior to Jan. 1, but as mentioned previously, many things have been sold out for the past month or two in anticipation of the demand. The EarthMed web site stated that there was a “state-wide flower shortage,” which could limit the amount available for consumers to purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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