Will Illinois Legalize Marijuana in 2019 for Recreational Use?

When you think of cannabis reform advocates working to legalize recreational marijuana in a U.S. state, the governor-elect of that state is typically not the first person that comes to mind. However, in Illinois, incoming billionaire governor J.B. Pritzker appears to be leading the state legalization movement. Considering Pritzker will be the richest politician in America — even wealthier than President Trump — the Hyatt Hotels heir is certain to have a lot of pull as the state’s governor. To say that the future looks bright for advocates of legalization in the state would be an understatement.

J.B. Pritzker spent a record $171.5 million of his own money to his campaign to become Illinois’ new governor beating incumbent Republican governor Bruce Rauner by a whopping margin of 31 percent.

After college Pritzker and his brother founded a private equity firm. The Pritzker Group owns and runs industrial firms and has a stake in SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company.

Now Pritzker is setting aside his role at the company to focus on making Illinois great again. And his vision includes saving the state money on ending the war on drugs and bringing in tax revenue by legalizing the popular recreational drug.

Illinois Governor-Elect J.B. Pritzker’s Take On Marijuana Legalization

Pritzker believes marijuana is safer than alcohol and that legal pot will bring with it many benefits for the state beyond medical use and tax revenue such as reduced jail population and social justice for minority communities who have been disproportionately hit by the war on drugs. Pritzker is gunning for the state’s cannabis reform measures to include commuting sentences for marijuana possession. He also aims to reinvest some of the revenue into bolstering neighborhoods and communities most adversely affected by marijuana-based incarcerations — especially in the major cities such as Chicago, Aurora, Joliet, and Springfield.

On his campaign website, Pritzker dedicated an entire page to cannabis reform. “The path forward for Illinois is clear,” writes Pritzker, “we need to legalize marijuana. As governor, I am ready to stand with leaders, communities, and families across our state to legalize marijuana and move our state forward.”

There is an abundance of evidence that shows we can legalize marijuana in a safe way. It would have real benefits for Illinois, including reducing opioid overdoses and bringing in much needed revenue from taxation.” — Illinois Governor-Elect J.B. Pritzker

“Most importantly,” says Pritzker, “legalizing marijuana is a step forward in reforming our broken criminal justice system. Criminalizing marijuana hasn’t made our communities safer. What it has done is disproportionately impact black and brown communities. There are way too many people who have gone to prison or are currently sitting in prison for marijuana-related offenses. The criminalization of marijuana has never been and never will be enforced fairly and it’s time to bring that to an end.”

With the help of state lawmakers, Pritzker intends to put in place a regulatory framework to license businesses to cultivate, process, distribute and sell marijuana to consumers for recreational use.

Legislative Efforts To Legalize Marijuana In Illinois in 2019

Standing next to the governor at the news conference was Illinois state Representative Kelly Cassidy, who has worked with influential state senator Heather Steans on building legislation to legalize cannabis.

Cassidy says she intends to introduce legislation to legalize recreational marijuana “next session,” claiming she has bipartisan support on the issue. And Steans has had a full-time staffer working on legalization for over a year.

“Right now, all the money being spent on marijuana is going into the pockets of criminals and cartels. In a regulated system, the money would go into the cash registers of licensed, taxpaying businesses. It would generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year in new revenue for our state. Prohibition is a financial hole in the ground, and we should stop throwing taxpayer dollars into it.” — Illinois State Senator Heather Steans

All this being said, legalizing marijuana in Illinois in 2019 is not going to be a cake walk. Opposition to recreational legalization in Illinois is strong among law enforcement agencies and faith-based communities. Included in the list of those speaking out against legalization are Illinois Chiefs of Police Association, Illinois Drug Enforcement Officers Association, Midwest Truckers Association, Illinois Association of Housing Authorities.

However, steady progress is being made in Illinois on these issues. And according to a 2018 Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll, more than two-thirds of Illinois voters are in favor of recreational legalization.

The success of a recreational legalization initiative in Michigan, and efforts to legalize cannabis in surrounding states, as well as across the country, are expected to bolster the legalization movement in Illinois.

Illinois is expected to be a major player in the adult-use and medical marijuana markets. Considered the “capital of the Midwest,” efforts to legalize marijuana in the state are being closely monitored by industry insiders who believe that Pritzker will succeed and that recreational weed will be legalized in the Hoosier state in 2019 or shortly thereafter. And those companies which get a foothold in the state’s medical marijuana market will have a comfortable head start over incoming competitors.

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