Lawmakers in Illinois are dead serious about ensuring the legalization of marijuana for adult use. With only five weeks remaining in the legislative session, the majority-Democrat group of pro-pot politicos hopes to release their full 300-page draft legislation within the week.
This time, however, the highly-anticipated law would go a great distance in terms of enshrining social justice aspects of marijuana legalization that often go by the wayside in other locales where cannabis prohibition has ended.
The legislation, drafted by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy and Sen. Heather Steans, was written in a way “that centers equity and inclusion in the industry, that centers restoration of records and social justice components and restoration of communities,” Cassidy told the Chicago Sun-Times. The proposed law already has the support of Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
A 2018 report by the Drug Policy Alliance found that, even in states where marijuana had been legalized, people of color still faced a far greater rate of arrests on charges of marijuana possession than did their white counterparts.
The proposed law would ensure that all misdemeanor pot convictions would be expunged from criminal records, while those with cannabis convictions would be allowed to work in the industry while firms in the industry would be expected to achieve diversity hiring goals.
The legislation would also grant support to minority-owned businesses by offering technical assistance and access to loans, capital, and protection from fees that are often used to place barriers to entry to smaller businesses. Cannabis licensing categories would also protect “craft” grow operations and those companies that process and transport the plant.
“I’ve said for a long time that other states that have tried this have tended to try with a solution, but that presumes there’s a singular barrier to minority engagement in the industry … And that’s simply not the case. These conversations have been about the best way to set up sort of a buffet of responses to the array of problems.”
In 1996, California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medical use, and over than 30 states have since done the same. Ten states along with Washington, D.C. have freed the herb almost entirely, allowing adults over 21 to partake in the recreational use of cannabis. However, cannabis remains illegal under U.S. federal law.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center also found that 62 percent of U.S. residents, including 74 percent of millennials, favor an end to the prohibition of cannabis.
The law faces opposition from a range of special interests groups, including the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the Illinois Chiefs of Police Association, and the Illinois Drug Enforcement Officers Association. The Illinois Chapter of the NAACP has also tagged along with anti-legalization force to chip away at support for the law in the state’s legislative black caucus.
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) April 20, 2019
Last month, Vermont-based ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, marked April 20—a day traditionally celebrated by cannabis users—with a call for lawmakers to expunge “everybody’s cannabis convictions.”
The company took aim at the disparity between the large number of white people who are making money from the legal marijuana industry versus the significant numbers of black people who continue to face arrest for the possession and usage of the pant.
In a video posted to Twitter, the company said:
“It’s hard to celebrate 4/20 when so many people of color are still being arrested for pot.”
If successfully passed, the Illinois law will hopefully become a model of anti-prohibitionist legislation for other states to follow.