In May, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize adult-use cannabis, and the first to do so via legislative action. It’s made Illinois’ law different — and one might argue, better — than everyone else’s, and it provides a road map for other states struggling to get there.
Earlier this year, state legislatures in New York and New Jersey appeared to be heading toward the same goal. But both states faltered as they approached the finish line, deciding instead to consider asking voters to approve it through ballot initiative. In fact, the governor of New Jersey said it was almost impossible to lift prohibition legislatively. Illinois accepted the challenge, used those false starts as a cautionary tale and passed the bill just hours before the session ended for summer break. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2020. Although not yet official, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat elected in November, campaigned on legalization and tweeted that he will sign the law for cannabis use for anyone over the age of 21 to be consumed in private homes and businesses.
Illinois legislators managed to pass not only the first bill legalizing the sale and possession of cannabis — it’s also the most progressive cannabis law in the country. It includes criminal justice reform as well as financial incentives and assistance for the minority communities most disadvantaged by the unequal application of old prohibition laws. Under the new law, Illinois will expunge the criminal records of more than 750,000 people who were convicted of minor cannabis possession offenses.