FILE - Legal recreational marijuana, cannabis, weed

Strains at a recreational marijuana dispensary in Denver, Colorado. (My 420 Tours | Wikimedia via Creative Commons)

Illinois state lawmakers could move quickly to legalize cannabis Wednesday with a Friday deadline looming.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaigned on legalizing cannabis for recreational use by adults. State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, had Senate Bill 7 earlier this year that was mostly void of details. A few weeks ago Steans, Pritzker, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, and other lawmakers revealed a bill they said was about addressing the harms caused by the war on drugs while also creating a safe and legal patchwork for legal cannabis sales.

But opponents took issue with several parts of the legislation, including provisions for expungement of marijuana-related convictions and allowing people to grow marijuana at home.

To address some of those concerns, a measure about stolen property and pawn shops could be gutted and replaced with an amendment to legalize cannabis.

House Bill 1438 passed the House unanimously April 3. The measure even passed a Senate committee unanimously earlier this month. An amendment gutting the contents of the bill and replacing it with a measure to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis was submitted Tuesday and is expected in committee before it heads to the Senate floor this afternoon.

Taxes would be 10 percent for marijuana with less than 35 percent THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. There’d be a 25 percent tax for products with higher THC levels and cannabis-infused products like edibles will have a tax rate of 20 percent. The money would be split among various programs and the state’s General Revenue Fund. Local governments could impose a 3 percent tax on cannabis sales.

The measure includes a provision for “social equity applicants” who would be able to get financial assistance and special consideration in licenses. The measure says “individuals who have been arrested or incarcerated due to drug laws suffer long-lasting negative consequences, including impacts to employment, business ownership, housing, health, and long-term financial well-being.” They’ll be offered “among other things, financial assistance and license application benefits to individuals most directly and adversely impacted by the enforcement of cannabis-related laws who are interested in starting cannabis business establishments.”

A committee of lawmakers with legal backgrounds expressed concern Tuesday night with the "social equity" portion of the cannabis legalization bill, saying the reference to giving priority to a subset of people based on things like rates of incarceration being challenged under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, saying it could be construed as a sort of "back-door reference" to prioritizing one racial subset of people over another. Ben Ruddell, a lawyer with the ACLU of Illinois, said the classifications would hold up if challenged in court because the special preference isn’t based on race or gender.

The measure prohibits regulation of medical cannabis by local governments, but it allows for local governments to restrict recreational sales within their jurisdiction. The measure also gives local governments the ability to prohibit home cultivation. It also limits home cultivation to medical marijuana patients.

“Limiting homegrow to just patients seems like too big a concession to law enforcement,” NORML of Illinois Director Dan Linn said.

The initial measure in Senate Bill 7 would have allowed adults to grow up to five plants at home, but law enforcement groups worried that would only add to black market sales and couldn’t be enforced.

Adults 21 and older would have certain limits on how much they can have, like around an ounce of the dried plant, and smaller quantities of oils or edibles.

But to get it at a dispensary, buyers should prepare to have an ID scanned if the law is passed.

“A dispensing organization shall use an electronic reader or electronic scanning device to scan a purchaser's government-issued identification, if applicable, to determine the purchaser's age and the validity of the identification,” the measure states. “Any identifying or personal information of a purchaser obtained or received in accordance with this Section shall not be retained, used, shared or disclosed for any purpose except as authorized by this Act.”

The measure would allow for a variety of licenses, including for dispensaries, craft growers and cannabis transportation.

The measure will be heard in a Senate committee Wednesday afternoon, where issues over the expungement of certain cannabis-related crimes may be addressed. Some have raised concerns about expungements of convictions of crimes that would still be a crime even if the bill passed.

The governor’s proposed budget relies on $170 million from cannabis licensing fees. That does not include whatever sales tax revenue would be generated when sales start as early as Jan. 1, 2020, if the law passes. Estimates of sales revenue range from $350 million to north of $750 million.

“It’s a good compromise and while there are issues that will need to be addressed, this has the potential to pass and end a prohibition that has lasted over 80 years,” Linn said.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.