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Illinois becomes 11th state to allow recreational marijuana

Legalization in Illinois also means that nearly 800,000 people with criminal records for purchasing or possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less may have those records expunged.

On the campaign trail, Pritzker claimed that, once established, taxation of marijuana could generate $800 million to $1 billion a year in taxes. He initially estimated that in the budget year that begins July 1, dispensary licensing would bring in $170 million. But the lawmakers who sponsored the plan, Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy, both Chicago Democrats, have dampened that prediction, lowering estimates to $58 million in the first year and $500 million annually within five years.

The marketplace portion of the Illinois law also addresses what critics have complained is the decades-long war on drugs’ disproportionate impact on minority communities. Pritzker said that while blacks comprise 15 percent of Illinois’ population, they count for 60 percent of cannabis-possession arrests.

In addition to providing criminal-record scrubbing for past low-level offenders, the law gives preference to would-be marijuana vendors in areas of high poverty and records of large numbers of convictions. And portions of tax proceeds must be reinvested in impoverished communities.

Police organizations are wary, concerned about enforcing driving under the influence laws and arguing technology for testing marijuana impairment needs more development. Law enforcement organizations were successful in killing an earlier provision that would have allowed anyone to grow up to five marijuana plants at home for personal use. Police said they’d have difficulty enforcing that, so the bill was amended to allow five plants to be maintained only by authorized patients under the state’s medical marijuana law. They previously could not grow their own.

Ten other states and the District of Columbia have legalized smoking or eating marijuana for recreational use since 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington state approved ballot initiatives. Vermont and Michigan last year were the latest states to legalize marijuana. Vermont did so through the Legislature, the first time it wasn’t done through a ballot initiative, but didn’t establish a statewide marketplace as Illinois did.

Other initiatives have failed. Promising proposals in New York and New Jersey fizzled late this spring. Despite a statewide listening tour on the issue by Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor last winter, the idea never took flight.

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