Recreational-pot bill likely at top of agenda 'very soon'

Recreational-pot bill likely at top of agenda 'very soon'

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By PETER HANCOCK
phancock@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD — A key supporter of an initiative to legalize adult recreational marijuana in Illinois said substantial bill language will be filed soon, and the issue could be one of the first discussed by state lawmakers when they return to the Statehouse from their two-week spring break next week.

In an interview with Capitol News Illinois, state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said she hoped to file substantial adult-use language "by the end of April or very early May, if not (Tuesday) April 30. ... Very soon, when we are done with the two-week break here."

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.

Now, with support from Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, many lawmakers want to legalize it for adults entirely under state law, even though it remains a criminal offense under federal law.

Pritzker's proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes $170 million in new revenue from licensing cultivators and dispensaries.

Steans said a number of different "working groups" have been meeting to hammer out details of different aspects of the legislation. Those are thought to include how many new licenses will become available for cultivation and retail sales; how much they will cost and how they will be allocated; and limits on how much marijuana an individual could possess for personal use.

Some early proposals have called for setting aside half or more of the new licenses for people who live in predominantly black, Hispanic and Native American neighborhoods, which supporters argue have suffered disproportionate negative impacts from the war on drugs. Steans said the proposal likely to be unveiled next week also will include a provision allowing individuals to cultivate a certain number of plants in their own homes for personal use.

"Yes, we're still talking about five plants," she said. "There may have been drafts out there with more than that. We're talking about a five-plant-per-household maximum homegrown."

The idea of complete legalization of adult recreational marijuana faces significant opposition from a number of religious organizations as well as some of Steans' fellow legislators.

"If you legalize it, usage is going to go up," Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican, said in an interview. "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."

Steans, meanwhile, said she was cautiously optimistic a legalization bill can pass.

"I never like to presume how folks are going to vote," she said. "But yes, we've been working with lots of the members from various caucuses, hoping to get something we think is reasonable."

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation. Its mission is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.

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