The bill will allow the licensed growth, sales, possession and consumption of cannabis for adults 21 and older.
The signing ceremony, attended by several lawmakers, officeholders and marijuana supporters, took place at the Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.
Pritzker called the legislation a “sea change” for Illinois, saying that the war on drugs has destroyed families and disproportionately affected minorities.
“Illinoisans have had enough,” he said. “… The time for change has long since passed.”
“This legislation brings an important and overdue change to our state, and it’s the right thing to do.”
Illinois becomes the 11th state to legalize recreational cannabis. Pritzker noted that Illinois is the first state to fully legalize commercial sales through the legislature, rather than through referendum.
He emphasized that the law provides for automatic expungement of arrests for marijuana possession under 30 grams, and that he will pardon those with convictions for possession up to 30 grams.
Individuals and prosecutors may go to court to seek expungement of cases involving up to 500 grams.
“Today we are giving hundreds of thousands of people the chance at a better life.,” Pritzker said.
The governor noted that no one with a violent crime conviction will be eligible for expungement or pardon.
Asked about the dangers of more people driving while high, Pritzker said people are driving while high even though marijuana is currently illegal but that it’s important to give police money to develop the best technology for catching them, such as roadside testing.
The governor emphasized that 25% of the revenue from marijuana taxes will go to marijuana business ownership in black and brown communities that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. In addition, 20% will go to substance abuse treatment and prevention and mental health care, with additional funds going to pay the state’s bills, law enforcement and public education on marijuana health issues.
To address concerns that cannabis retail shops will end up concentrated in minority neighborhoods, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a co-sponsor of the bill, said there are minimum distances between shops to avoid a “liquor store on every corner“ phenomenon.
Local governments can ban marijuana businesses or set rules to determine where they are allowed. Municipalities cannot prohibit people from possessing marijuana, though landlords can keep it off their property and employers can prohibit use by their employees.
While the law states that it takes effect immediately, sponsors said legal possession and sales will not take effect until Jan. 1.
Cannabis remains illegal under federal law, but federal prosecutors generally have not gone after participants in state-approved programs.
State Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said Monday that prohibition doesn’t work and that regulating the product will improve social fairness, make it safer to consume and generate much-needed tax revenue for the state.
In the runup to the first legal sales Jan. 1, Steans said, “The biggest challenge will be, what will the (customer) lines be like? In other states we’ve seen long lines and not enough product.”
Opponents warn that legalization will lead to increased use of an addictive drug, more deaths and accidents from driving while high, and more emergency hospitalizations for overdoses.
The Democrat-controlled General Assembly overwhelmingly approved Senate Bill 7, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, last month. It will allow residents to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis flower, 500 milligrams of THC in a cannabis-infused product such as edibles and 5 grams of cannabis concentrate. Out-of-state visitors could possess up to half those amounts.
Only state-licensed businesses will be allowed to grow, process or sell the product. An important part of the plan calls for favoritism in licensing for “social equity applicants,” meaning business owners and workers from poor minority areas, or those who were arrested for or convicted of misdemeanor marijuana crimes that are due to be expunged under the plan.
Once the market grows to maturity, the program is estimated to generate $500 million a year in taxes. That would come from a 10% tax on products with up to 35% THC, the component of the plant that gets users high; 20% for cannabis-infused products such as edibles; and 25% for THC concentrations of more than 35% — plus local sales taxes.
In a concession to law enforcement, an earlier provision to allow adults to grow five plants each at home was eliminated. Instead, only certified medical marijuana patients would be allowed to grow up to five plants each at home.