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Public radio stations throughout Illinois joined forces to tackle the issue of marijuana as the state considers making recreational use legal.

Pritzker Signs Recreational Pot Bill

via Twitter
As state lawmakers look on, Gov. J.B. Pritzker presents the newly-signed recreational marijuana law to a crowd gathered in Chicago for its signing.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a law Tuesday legalizing recreational marijuana. That makes the state the 11th to approve recreational use.

This comes as Illinois farmers have been allowed to plant hemp, a non-psychoactive relative of cannabis, for such things as oil and cloth production.

Illinoisans 21 years or older will soon get to have up to an ounce of the stuff on them at a time, though public smoking is still banned in most places. Medical card holders will also be able to grow up to five plants a home, so long as they’re kept under lock and key and out of public view.

Marijuana will have a tax slapped on it of between 10 and 25 percent, depending on its level of the active ingredient, known as THC.

Unlike other states like Colorado, Illinois is limiting the number of dispensary licenses it will offer initially. Only 75 shops, the bulk of which are in Chicago and its suburbs, will be allowed to sell recreational marijuana. Many are existing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Governor Pritzker says it was time the state went a different direction.

"Illinoisans have had enough," he told a crowd gathered for the bill signing. "They know that what we’re doing isn’t working. They know that criminalization offers nothing but pain, disruption, and injustice.”

Illinois is targeting nearly $60 million in tax revenue in the next fiscal year, far short of the $1 billion Pritzker had foreseen on the campaign trail. Expectations are that number will grow to nearly $500 million over the next five years.

The governor “estimates” Illinois will have enough marijuana supply by the time legal pot sales begin in January. (Recreational pot will remain illegal until January 1st, so don't light up yet.) What’s unclear is whether the state’s black market will persist as it has in other states.

State Senator Toi Hutchinson (D, Olympia Fields) says one way or another, prohibition will soon be a thing of the past, remembered as something that simply didn’t work.

“If there’s anybody who believes that we need to fight to keep the current system as it is, today...that must mean it’s working for you. This wasn’t working for us,” she told the crowd.

What "wasn't working," she says, is the so-called War on Drugs, which aimed to get things like marijuana and the people who use it off the streets. Supporters of Illinois' legalization bill say that policy has "disproportionately impacted" communities of color; more people in those communities have criminal records for using pot than others who have consumed it.

But, under the state’s new law, people arrested or convicted of pot crimes could have their criminal records wiped. Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton says that goal was first and foremost in crafting the legislation.

This is justice, and this is what equity is all about: righting wrongs, and leveling the playing field,” she said.

It’s estimated at least a quarter million people will have their marijuana arrest records automatically expunged, so long as they were caught with less than an ounce of the stuff.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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