Democratic-controlled Illinois sets eyes on marijuana legalization


LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group

Elyse Jones waters marijuana clones at a medical marijuana dispensary in San Jose, Calif., where marijuana is legalized. In Illinois, any person convicted of possessing more than 10 grams or those accused of selling the drug can face prison time.

James Pollard, Reporter

Last week, the Evanston Police Department seized over 500 grams of marijuana, including THC-laced Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, arresting their owner. While legalizing possession of that many grams might not be part of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan, the recently-inaugurated former businessman wants to legalize recreational marijuana “nearly right away” in Illinois.

“In the interests of keeping the public safe from harm, expanding true justice in our criminal justice system and advancing economic inclusion, I will work with the legislature to legalize, tax and regulate the sale of recreational cannabis in Illinois,” Pritzker said in his inaugural address.

John Sullivan, the director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said state lawmakers are currently working on the language of such a law. While the state legalized medicinal marijuana in 2013, Illinois could become the 11th state to legalize marijuana for people over the age of 21.

“I don’t think anybody really knows what the ultimate final piece of legislation will look like,” Sullivan said. “The Department certainly has the expertise with regard to the medicinal that we think we can use some of that experience if and when recreational happens here in Illinois.”

Pritzker also said that he would review and commute the sentences of those who have been imprisoned for marijuana offenses. Proponents of a legalization bill introduced last March say it would raise $350 million to $700 million dollars in taxes.

Sullivan said the Department of Agriculture will work with the governor’s office on the issue and emphasized his department’s work with the current medicinal marijuana program, which lawmakers expanded last August. Currently in its pilot program, qualified patients can purchase up to 2.5 ounces of medicinal marijuana from a licensed dispensary every two weeks for 90 days, though the prescription may be renewed.

Evanston Police Department Cmdr. Ryan Glew said he cannot determine how the EPD would enforce such a law, since it has not been written. He emphasized that the EPD will continue to enforce the law in accordance with the state and city.

Evanston’s current city ordinances state that anyone in possession of less than 10 grams of cannabis must appear before the City’s Division of Administrative Adjudication. If found in violation of the law, they may be fined between $50 and $500 and potentially referred to counseling, rehabilitation or community service. Any person found with more than 10 grams of cannabis will receive a citation to appear before the Second Municipal District of the Circuit Court of Cook County and fined between the same amounts.

Statewide, anyone with 10 grams of marijuana will receive a citation rather than a criminal charge, according to a bill signed in 2016 by former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Those convicted of possessing more than 10 grams or those accused of selling the drug still face prison time.

Chicago resident Wendy Zdrodowski said people will use the drug regardless of its legalization, likening its usage to alcohol.

“People are going to do it anyway, so we might as well legalize it, tax it and use the money to help out anybody who might have addiction issues,” said Zdrodowski.

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