Marijuana is legal for adults and is taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol; state also has a medical marijuana law
Last update: February 15, 2023
3.5 years into legalization: nearly 500k records expunged, but equitable licensing is slow
In 2019, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize cannabis for adult use, and the first in the country to adopt a regulatory system for cannabis cultivation, testing, and sales through a state legislature. Illinois is also the first state in which the legislature legalized the adult use of cannabis with a social equity program included. MPP’s staff, contract lobbyists, and organizers were proud to work closely with the bill sponsors and government agencies to reach this historic point. MPP’s current CEO and former state Senator Toi Hutchinson was one of the four state lawmakers who sponsored the bill to legalize recreational use of cannabis in Illinois. Governor JB Pritzker appointed Hutchinson as the state’s first-ever cannabis regulation oversight officer— also known as the “cannabis czar,” a position she held until she became MPP’s leader at the beginning of 2022.
The MPP-backed bill was a trailblazer in equity, both in licensing and expungements. Gov. Pritzker’s office expunged 492,129 cannabis arrests at the state level, and pardoned more than 20,000 convictions since the signing of legalization.
Cannabis Tax Revenue Pours Back into Disadvantaged Communities
Illinois’ legalization law — the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act — directs 25 percent of all cannabis tax revenue to support communities hurt by economic disinvestment, violence, and the severe and disproportionate damage caused by the war on drugs. The program is called Restore, Reinvest, Renew, or “R3.”
On June 23, 2022, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) announced $45 million in R3 grant funding that will support 148 programs run by organizations in communities hardest hit by the failed war on drugs. R3 funds programs within these 5 areas: civic legal aid, economic development, reentry, violence prevention, and youth development. Communities eligible for funding were identified by rates of gun injuries, child poverty, unemployment and incarceration. The funds are being disbursed in the 2023 calendar year and include approximately $40.5 million to support agencies providing service delivery and $4.5 million to support community planning and capacity building for future R3 funding. Programs like Prairie State Legal Services, which provides free legal assistance for low-income clients dealing with non-criminal court cases, and Metropolitan Family Services, a non-profit that helps low-income and working poor families in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs have already been qualified for R3. Community organizations can find more information on how to apply for R3 grants here.
Social Equity Licensing Slow to Move Forward
Illinois lawmakers sought to create an equitable, diverse cannabis industry. The licensing allowed existing medical cannabis businesses to go first if they paid a hefty fee to help fund social equity start-ups. Next, the CRTA prioritizes licensing social equity applicants — defined here — for licensure.
Unfortunately, social equity licensing has been beset by delays due to COVID and litigation, and most of the social equity licensees are not yet operational. In early licensing rounds, licenses were issued based on a scored system that resulted in only perfect scoring applicants getting approved. In January 2023, the process was simplified to require a much more streamlined application for retailers, with lower fees, and a lottery.
Illinois Updates Social Equity Forgivable Loan Program
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is offering $8.75 million in forgivable loans to previously approved social equity cannabis licensees “in order to provide immediate access to capital” after difficulties with their previous loan program. “Pending the completion of a simplified documentation process, forgivable loan amounts between $50,000-$500,000 will be released immediately,” according to a news release in November from Gov. JB Pritzker and the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Illinois Cannabis Social Equity Loan Program qualifies craft growers for $500,000 loans, infusers $250,000, and transporters $50,000. The loans have “an 18-month grace period with no payments or interest down in an effort to provide businesses with flexibility but with 4%interest rate later.”
The new loan program is a means of refurbishing Illinois’ original social equity loan program, which launched in 2021 in partnership with private lenders. Loans to social equity licensees under the original program were not guaranteed and were not forgivable.
Government Provides Technical Assistance for Social Equity Applicants
Qualified social equity applicants also have access to state funded technical assistance needed to procure and secure adult-use licenses. Assistance is provided in partnership with The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and community-based organizations and educational institutions. Technical assistance is crucial in ensuring an equitable and sustainable emerging cannabis industry.
State Funded Initiative Expunges Cannabis Convictions
Individuals can qualify for automatic expungement of police records if they have an arrest as an adult for a “minor cannabis offense,” which is for possession or dealing 30 grams or less, before June 25, 2019. It must be at least one year since the arrest. There must not have been any charges filed in court. Or, the charges must have been dismissed,vacated, or acquitted. Also, an individual must not have given cannabis to someone under 18 who was at least three years younger than the individual, or been arrested for a violent crime in the same case as the cannabis charges.
Organizations such as New Leaf Illinois, a state-funded network of several non-profit legal and advocacy organizations, help those with prior cannabis convictions and arrests for free. According to their website, the nonprofit has vacated and expunged 311 cannabis convictions while 183 non-conviction and other cannabis records have been expunged and sealed.
Illinois Senate Fails To Pass Workplace Protections for Cannabis Consumers
Illinois residents have been legally able to purchase and consume cannabis since the state’s adult-use market launched in January 2020. Unlike several other states, however, reform has not yet extended to protecting cannabis consumers in the workplace.
House Bill 4116, sponsored by Rep. Bob Morgan (D) in 2021-2022, aimed to amend the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act. Unfortunately, the bill died without getting out of committee in the Senate. The bill would have provided employers protection against cannabis consumption outside of office hours. Thus barring employers from taking disciplinary actions against cannabis usage, and not hiring applicants based solely on the premise of cannabis use.
The four Illinois lawmakers who sponsored equitable legalization, dubbed “marijuana moms” by NPR: Reps. Jehan Gordon-Booth and Kelly Cassidy and Sens. Heather Steans and Toi Hutchinson, who now serves as MPP’s president and CEO.
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There’s a new law in the Land of Lincoln! Yesterday, while ringing in a new decade, Illinois also saw the official start of legal cannabis sales for adults 21 and older.
Illinois residents can now purchase and possess up to 30 grams of raw cannabis, cannabis-infused products containing no more than 500 mg of THC, and five grams of cannabis product in concentrated form. Visitors to the state can purchase half those amounts. More than 40 dispensaries throughout Illinois have been approved to sell…