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Illinois Marijuana rules starting next year


Illinois Legal Weed: Who Can Buy, Sell, Use Marijuana Next Year?

Recreational marijuana is set to go on sale in less than 6 months. Here’s what the new Illinois cannabis law allows and forbids.

By Jonah Meadows, Patch Staff |  | 
Illinois is poised to become the 11th state to permit the possession of cannabis for recreational use on Jan. 1, 2020.
Illinois is poised to become the 11th state to permit the possession of cannabis for recreational use on Jan. 1, 2020. (Shutterstock)
CHICAGO — Illinois is poised to become the second-largest marijuana market in the country in the coming years. Under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, passed last week by state lawmakers and expected to be signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker, recreational cannabis can be sold to anyone over the age of 21 and consumed in private homes and business starting next year.

Marijuana will be available over the counter to more than 12 million people in Illinois — more than the population of Washington and Oregon combined and twice as many people as Colorado — starting Jan. 1, 2020. It will be taxed at a sliding scale, depending on the level of the active psychoactive ingredient THC is in any given product.

While any adult with valid identification will be able to purchase marijuana under the act, there are limitations on how much, who can consume it and where it can be consumed. The law does not stop employers from banning cannabis use among employees, landlords from banning it for tenants and or allow anyone to expose minors to marijuana. Penalties for illicit cannabis distribution would remain in place, and only medical marijuana cardholders and licensed growers will be able to cultivate cannabis.

How Much Cannabis Can People Have?

There are different limits to what any person can possess at any given time for residents and visitors. Residents would be limited to 30 grams of cannabis flower, up to 500 milligrams of THC in a cannabis-infused product or up to 5 grams of a cannabis concentrate. Non-residents would be allowed half as much. The limits “are to be considered cumulative,” although no conversion rate is specified. Medical cannabis cardholders could grow up to five plants, as long as they were kept out of public view and away from people under age 21.

Who Can Sell Cannabis?

The law gives a head start to established medical marijuana dispensaries (see map below) for the initial year of legal weed by allowing them first crack at the recreational market. Every company already licensed to sell medical cannabis is expected to seek the state’s permission to begin selling recreational weed with the early approval licenses — meaning there could be up to 110 pot stores in Illinois by early 2020.

With a $30,000 application fee, dispensaries can start selling both medical and recreational cannabis products by paying $100,000 or 3 percent of annual sales, whichever is less. Those same companies can also apply to open up one additional recreational shop each by paying another licensing fee and $200,000 to the Cannabis Business Development Fund, which is tasked with providing low-interest loans to social equity applicants, assisting with job training in areas disproportionately affected by the drug war and conducting research on barriers to underrepresented individuals in the cannabis industry.

“This bill is going to set the model, I believe the gold standard, for how to approach social equity issues regarding cannabis legalization,” said state Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat and the bill’s Senate sponsor. “I think it’s the biggest piece of social equity, social justice legislation that we’ve passed here in the state of Illinois”

Next, the state will issue 75 conditional adult use licenses to top-scoring applicants before May 1, 2020. Those licensees will divided between the 17 regions used by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics based on each areas share of the population, so there will be 47 licenses for the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metro area, four in St. Louis, three each in Peoria, northwest and west central nonmetropolitan Illinois, two in Rockford, west central and south Illinois nonmetropolian areas and one for each other region.

A second wave of permits would be come available in December 2021, with the potential for another 110 stores, 60 craft growers and 60 processors. Colorado has more than 500 retail licensees.

When Can’t You Have Cannabis?

The new law expressly does not permit a number of types of conduct, including possessing cannabis in a school bus, a school, a correctional facility or in a vehicle if it’s not “reasonably secured” and “reasonably inaccessible” while moving or in a home used for child or social service care.

Other things that could be banned and penalized include consuming cannabis in a motor vehicle, in a public place, near anyone under 21 otherwise ineligible to consume it or being under while influence during any task that would constitute professional malpractice or misconduct. The law notes that operating a motor vehicle, boat or aircraft while using or under the influence of marijuana constitutes a DUI.

“Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prevent the arrest or prosecution of a person for reckless driving or driving under the influence of cannabis is probable cause exists,” it says. During the floor debate, House sponsor Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, said she believed the smell of cannabis would continue to provide probable cause to search a vehicle. While not yet addressed by Illinois courts, courts in other states have agreed.

Full Text: The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act — House Bill 1438

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, pictured with legalization co-sponsor Sen. Heather Steans outside a Chicago medical cannabis dispensary, called for an end to marijuana prohibition following his November 2018 election. (Campaign photo)

What Can Local Governments Do?

Towns cannot ban the consumption of marijuana outright, nor than they create their own regulations for dispensing organizations or their employees. Municipalities and other local governments may still come up with ordinances to prohibit the location of cannabis businesses.

Local home rule units and counties can enact “reasonable zoning ordinances or resolutions” regarding marijuana-related businesses as long as they do not conflict with the act or state rules.

But, the law says, no town may prohibit home cultivation by medical marijuana cardholders “or unreasonably prohibit use of cannabis” or “unreasonably restrict the time, place, manner and number of cannabis business.” Voters in Chicago, however, may petition or aldermen may establish a precinct as a “restricted cannabis zone” where home cultivation or one or more type of cannabis businesses may be prohibited through a referendum or a renewable ordinance.

Local governments may also impose their own taxes on recreational weed of up to 3.75 percent of gross in unincorporated areas, 3 percent in municipalities within home rule counties and 0.75 percent in non-home rule counties.

How Much Money Will Be Made?

study from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute estimated $1.6 billion worth of marijuana will be sold in the state, based on the relative purchasing power of the state compared to Colorado. Marijuana Business Daily projected that the recreational market could grow beyond $2 billion and more than 295 stores could be open by 2022.

So far, none of the 16 companies that won the 21 cultivation licenses issued four years ago have come close to making their money back, Crain’s Chicago Business has reported. Some have spent tens of millions of dollars establishing their supply chains. Meanwhile, cannabis companies are consolidating and planning increasing hiringat facilities and corporate offices, according to Crain’s.

But the law prohibits any single entity from having an ownership stake in more than 10 stores or three cultivation centers, and entities could own have one craft grower license.

The bill’s sponsors estimated the taxes and fees from the law will generate about $500 million in annual revenue once the market fully matures.

The Illinois recreational weed market is estimated to grow to more than $1 billion. (Shutterstock)

How Much Will It Cost?

The overall cost-benefit analysis of legalizing recreational marijuana in Illinois and elsewhere is likely to remain debated as the state manages implementation and regulation of the new market. Opponents of the legalization bill argued the cost to taxpayers from higher insurance bills, a variety of public health and safety concerns and other downside risks will far outweigh the increased revenue for state and local governments. Supporters say legalization will create jobs, bring revenue to needed public programs, boost investment in blighted areas and keep non-violent cannabis consumers out of the criminal justice system.

The preamble of the law suggests legalization of recreational marijuana will free up public resources to invest in communities, allow law enforcement to focus on violent and property crimes, generate revenue, and says it is in the interest of “individual freedom.”

As for the cost of cannabis itself, pricing of various types of marijuana can vary substantially depending on the type. Regulators hope to avoid the kind of overproduction that has pushed down prices and grown enough weed in Oregon to last the state years. On the other hand, without enough on the market, legal sellers could struggle to meet demand, as they have done in Canada, which has seen chronic shortages at its state-owned shops since legalizing nationwide. Either outcome could encourage an illicit market and reduce the state’s cut of the revenue.