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Governor signs bill into law that legalizes marijuana in Illinois on Jan. 1

A marijuana starter plant is for sale at a medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, in this November 20, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante
A marijuana starter plant is for sale at a medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, in this November 20, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante

CHICAGO — Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday signed into law a bill that will legalize marijuana in Illinois next year, marking a momentous shift in how the state treats drug use.

The bill will allow the licensed growth, sales, possession and consumption of cannabis for adults 21 and over. While the plant remains illegal under federal law, and the state previously decriminalized possession of small amounts, the new statute will end part of the war on drugs that led to thousands of arrests and convictions.

The signing ceremony, attended by several lawmakers, office-holders and marijuana supporters, took place at the Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.

Illinois becomes the 11th state to legalize cannabis and the first state in which a legislature approved commercial sales.

State Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said Monday that prohibition doesn’t work, and that regulating the product will improve social fairness, make it safer to consume, and will generate much-needed tax revenue for the state.

In the runup to the first legal sales Jan. 1, 2020, Steans said, “The biggest challenge will be, what will the (customer) lines be like? In other states we’ve seen long lines and not enough product.”

Opponents warn that legalization will lead to increased use of an addictive drug, more deaths and accidents from driving while high, and more emergency hospitalizations for overdoses.

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The Democratic-controlled General Assembly overwhelmingly approved Senate Bill 7, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, last month. It will allow residents to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis flower, 500 milligrams of THC in a cannabis-infused product such as edibles, and 5 grams of cannabis concentrate. Out-of-state visitors could possess up to half those amounts.

Only state-licensed businesses will be allowed to grow, process or sell the product. An important part of the plan calls for favoritism in licensing for “social equity applicants,” meaning business owners and workers from poor minority areas, or those who were arrested for or convicted of misdemeanor marijuana crimes that are due to be expunged under the plan.

Once the market grows to maturity, the program is estimated to generate an estimated $500 million a year in taxes. That would come from a 10% tax on products with up to 35% THC, the component of the plant that gets users high; 20% for cannabis-infused products such as edibles; and 25% for THC concentrations of more than 35% — plus local sales taxes.

In a concession to law enforcement, an earlier provision to allow adults to grow five plants each at home was eliminated. Instead, only certified medical marijuana patients would be allowed to grow up to five plants each at home.

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