Illinois House passes marijuana legalization bill, approves balanced budget

Saturday, June 1, 2019
Illinois House passes marijuana legalization bill, approves balanced budget
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Illinois state legislators were busy Friday, what was supposed to be the last day of the spring legislative session.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- Illinois state legislators were busy Friday, what was supposed to be the last day of the spring legislative session. First the Illinois House voted to legalize recreational marijuana in the state and then, late Friday, they approved a balanced budget.

The House voted 66 to 47 to pass the recreational marijuana bill Friday afternoon.

Governor JB Pritzker said he applauded the passage of the bill as "the most equity-centric approach in the nation" to legalizing marijuana. The bill also has the support of Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx.

Pritzker said he looks forward to signing the bill into law. Recreational marijuana could be legal in Illinois as soon as January 1, 2020.

When the Illinois House convened Friday morning, the first bill called was the recreational marijuana bill, which passed out of a House committee Thursday night.

Recreational marijuana is expected to bring in $58 million in 2020, largely from licensing fees and more than double that the next year.

The bill would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 30 grams or about an ounce.

"It's a little surreal still. I knew that we were in good shape. I never put a number on it, but this is higher than anything I imagined," said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat from Chicago who sponsored the bill.

The bill was pushed as one emphasizing criminal justice reform first, promising expungement for those convicted of low-level pot possession offenses.

"This is the first step in what's been a very long war on drugs," state Senator Toi Hutchinson said. "It's not over by any means necessary, it's step one in starting to right what happened."

But the vote did not come without some heated debate, including in the black caucus.

"We've had 50 damn years to work on the issue. Nobody saw fit to do it and then, all of a sudden when it's an opportunity to make money from the same things that have decimated our communities, all of a sudden it's about criminal justice reform. It's offensive," said Rep. Curtis Tarver II, a Democrat from Chicago.

"Getting stoned is a condoned and accepted recreational activity, and I just have a real problem with that," Rep. Anthony DeLuca said.

With this vote Illinois becomes the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.

Just before 10 p.m., the House also approved a balanced budget that would cover expenditures in the nearly $41 billion spending plan by a vote of 83-35.

There's still a lot of work to be done on other important issues, forcing the legislative session to be extended through Sunday.

Several bills waiting for floor debate include a bill concerning sports betting and casinos, a capital bill and a controversial abortion bill.

The bill to legalize sports betting excludes betting on Illinois college teams.

Another bill on the table would add six new casinos to the state, including one in Chicago, but Chicago would not own it. Revenue from sports betting would fund capital projects like buildings.

"What I do know, whatever gaming passes, there will be a license for the south suburbs," said State Rep. Will Davis, D-East Hazelcrest. "Our major concerns would be the Chicago casino. Not that we don't want Chicago to have one, but the question is where would it be located, because we don't want a casino to cannibalize anything we're trying to do in the south suburbs."

"Well, I believe we've got a good bill that we've compromised, we've worked on. Is everybody happy? No, and that's usually a sign that it's a good bill when not everybody received everything they wanted," said Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island.

Several tax increases, including on parking and gasoline, are expected.