Legal Cannabis Could be Coming to Illinois: Here's What You Need to Know

Will the famous gusts of The Windy City soon be carrying wafts of legal weed?

Written by Features Writer, Jeff Klingman

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker put his plan for legal cannabis in motion at the beginning of May, when state Democrats officially introduced a bill that would make Illinois the 11th state in the U.S. to allow recreational marijuana for adult use. Despite the significant momentum behind it, the outcome currently remains in doubt. If you’ve paid attention to this process in the states that crossed the finish line, you’ll know that reversing prohibition is never a simple process.

Here’s everything cannabis entrepreneurs (and Midwestern stoners) need to know about the current state of play for Prairie State pot.

When Could Recreational Marijuana be Sold in Illinois?

If passed, Gov. Pritzker’s pot bill would go into effect on January 1st, 2020. The first dispensary licenses wouldn’t be granted until the cusp of the following summer, projected to be between May and June, 2020. In other newly legal states, the time between granting licenses and opening dispensaries for sale has notoriously lagged behind those first permissions, though. As of now, there’s no hard date on the table for when we’ll see the first joints sold.

It’s clear that public opinion is firmly in favor of legalization, though. Sixty percent of state residents think pot should be taxed and regulated just like alcohol, though the numbers fluctuate from county to county, with slightly more support in urban areas and their nearby suburbs and slightly more skepticism down state.

How Big of a Deal Would This Be?

Pretty massive! A newly legal Illinois would immediately become the second biggest state market for recreational cannabis in the United States, following behind California. Far, far behind, as Cali’s got ‘em beat by just about 27 million people as of the 2018 Census Report. But still, opening up a population of over 12 million new consumers will be of enormous interest to cannabis industry players looking for big growth in the 2020s. A passed law would also make Chicago, the 3rd biggest city in America, a new metropolitan MJ mecca for the country, second only to Los Angeles among spots allowing adult-use sales. Some projections count the worth of a theoretical pot market in Illinois in the multi-billions.

That’s big enough as a one off, but the long-term implications for the wider cannabis industry may be much greater. Taken alongside rumblings of impending legalization in New York and New Jersey, combined with newly legal Massachusetts in the northeast, and other wed legal states like Michigan in the midwest…and we may soon find an American cannabis industry on the verge of a massive geographical shift.

According to Chicago-based research firm Brightfield Group, Western states currently make up 42 percent of the total cannabis sales in the U.S. But by 2023? Their numbers predict a significant flip, with markets east of the Mississippi predicted to make up 34 percent of the market, to the west’s 20 percent.

How Will Illinois Spend All That Dough?

A recent Forbes article noted a study from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the University of Illinois which “determined that legalizing marijuana would create 24,000 jobs would generate more than $500 million in state tax revenue.“ Its author, Andre Bourque, created a handy visual showing where the end results of that tax money is expected to land.​

As you can see, the biggest chunk of change would land in the state’s general revenue fund. There would be large swaths set aside for programs that could be especially strained by a changed cannabis policy, such as substance abuse and mental health treatment, law enforcement, and public drug education initiatives.

What’s Holding Things Up?

The debate over exact legal language has been raging for weeks, and details seem to be ever changing. A provision allowing a small amount of homegrown has been controversially omitted from later drafts as a compromise to gain stronger support from pot pessimists. There’s tension over issues of public disclosure that will whether the public is allowed transparent access to records of who owns cannabis licensees in the same way they might for the ownership of state bars and casinos. And, in echoes of similar debates happening in statehouses across the country, there is some resistance to the proposed bill coming from supporters of legal weed who fear that legalization won’t go far enough on social justice issues.

Friday, May 31st, is the deadline to get the bill through both houses of state government and to the Governor’s desk. With this and many other legislative priorities still left to resolve, legal weed will most likely come down to next week’s wire.

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