STERLING – With Gov. J.B. Pritzker's signature Tuesday, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.
The law, which takes effect Jan.1, will allow Illinois residents 21 and older to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis or 5 grams of cannabis concentrate.
In addition, those convicted of a nonviolent cannabis-related drug offenses will have their records automatically expunged through governor pardons and court action.
Pritzker signed the bill while surrounded by a group of supporters or those involved in the many conversations that led to the legislation.
“Ladies and gentlemen, change is hard,” he said. “But an essential tenet of good governance is recognizing the need to change the laws that have failed.”
Kris Noble is executive director of the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber didn't take a strong position during the bill's drafting but is happy that workplace protections are included and that there is a local control component.
Potential employees may be able to legally and recreationally use cannabis come Jan. 1, but that doesn't mean it won't impact potential employment, she noted.
"What we do know is that employers want top candidates, and if a candidate is using substances, they may not be considered," Noble said.
Area residents also shared their thoughts on the new law. None opposed it, but some cautiously supported the coming change.
Tom Dugger, 49, of Rock Falls, said he thinks legalization is past due. “I think it’s awesome," Dugger said. “It should have been done years ago.”
James Carroll, 61, of Sterling, said he never thought cannabis would be legal. He said he knows some may not agree, but it’ll be legal Jan. 1 regardless of how they feel.
The only cons, he said, is that there’s a chance people may treat it like alcohol and drive under the influence, but he still thinks “it’s a hell of a good idea.”
Denise Young, 51, of Sterling, said she doesn't oppose legalization, but she does have concerns about its potential impact. City officials should be cautious when considering how they intend to regulate it – she doesn't want there to be any "ramifications" 5 years from now, she said.
"I don't know if it's going to impact the community," Young said. "I'm more concerned with what it'll do with the downtown community and how it'll affect the appearance."
Neither she nor Gracie Young, 18, of both Rock Falls and Sterling, like all of the bars downtown, they said.
Marijuana eventually will be legal everywhere, and right now people may be uncomfortable with it because it's new, Gracie said.
"I just think you have to get used to it," she said.
One positive she sees is the effect it could have on opioid addiction – recreational cannabis could help some people trade in their pain medications for marijuana instead, she said.
"It just drive me crazy that opioids are legal, but they're just now considering marijuana. It drives me crazy."
How the new law works
By JERRY NOWICKI | Capitol News Illinois | Jnowicki@capitolnewsillinois.com
SPRINGFIELD – Beginning Jan. 1, each resident of Illinois may possess up to 30 grams of marijuana, up to 5 grams of cannabis concentrate, and 500 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product.
Nonresidents can possess half those amounts.
Registered medical marijuana patients will be allowed to grow up to five cannabis plants in their home and possess more than 30 grams of cannabis if it is grown and secured in their residence under certain conditions.
Legalization is expected to generate $57 million in the upcoming fiscal year and as much as $500 million a year when the industry is fully mature.
Twenty-five percent of legalization revenues will be directed to a newly established Restore, Reinvest and Renew Grant Program to “address the impact of economic disinvestment, violence, and the historical overuse of the criminal justice system,” according to a news release from the governor's office.
The new law also includes expungement measures for those with low-level marijuana arrests and convictions. Roughly 700,000 records are eligible for expungement under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said those with arrests for less than 30 grams will have their records cleared through local law enforcement and the Illinois State Police, and those with convictions up to that amount will have their records referred to the Prisoner Review Board, which will make an expungement recommendation to the governor.
Those convicted of possessing more than 30 grams up to 500 grams could petition the courts for expungement through a more complex “motion to vacate” process.
Cannabis offenses connected to violent crime are ineligible for the automatic expungement processes, but the individual or State’s Attorney can still file motion with the court to vacate conviction.
The state's 55 medical-cannabis dispensaries, including The Dispensary in Fulton, will get the first opportunity to sell recreational pot, because they're proven business concerns.
They may apply to dispense recreational pot at their current stores and for a license for a second location, meaning the state could have 110 recreational pot outlets by the time sales start Jan. 1.
In October, the application period for 75 more dispensaries opens. No more would be allowed to open after that until the state conducts a review of the rollout.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.