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Illinois pot legalization splits both parties in House, but is poised for governor’s signature after passage

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Illinois lawmakers celebrate after Illinois House approved a bill to legalize recreational marijuana at the State Capitol

A bill to legalize cannabis for adult recreational use in Illinois is on to the governor despite there being bipartisan opposition.

Sponsors of the measure say allowing adults to legally buy from state licensed sellers and possess up to 30 grams of marijuana is not just about revenue for the state, it’s about reversing the impacts of the War on Drugs.

“I have said repeatedly, however, this is not about the money,” said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago. “It can’t be about the money. States that have passed legalization and have gone about it as if it’s a magic ATM machine have failed doubly. They have not cut into their illicit marketplace and they’ve gotten less revenue.”

Cassidy said the tax rates have been set at the lower end of what other states tax. With all the taxes for cannabis in House Bill 1438, from the state excise tax, cultivation privilege tax and even local tax on top of the state sales tax, the most THC potent form of the product will have a 41 percent tax.

The measure found support from state Rep. David Welter, R-Morris. He said the provisions for local control over sales and the ability for businesses to do random drug testing were good provisions.

“I’m a father of three from a rural district and I’m standing before you supporting this bill because I do not believe the current policy that we have out there right now is working,” Welter said. “Prohibition doesn’t work and we see that. Putting safeguards in place, taxing, regulating it I believe provides a better market and a safer market for our state.”

Many other Republicans, however, stood in opposition to the bill, citing various statistics of increased psychosis, traffic fatalities and youth access in states that have legalized it. Supporters of the bill said correlation doesn’t mean causation, but opponents said it’s an area that should be investigated further.

House Democrats were also split on the measure.

State Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, talked about the negative health effects of the drug. He brought out props to the House floor: An egg and a pan.

“This is your brain,” DeLuca said as he cracked an egg into a frying pan. “There it is folks. This is your brain on drugs. So today for my family, for my children, for your family, of your children, and especially for African American and Hispanic communities, vote no.”

State Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, immediately stood in support of the measure and to “refute some of the what I call nonsense that we heard including wasting eggs that should have been used to make a souffle or something instead of making a ridiculous point that has been outdated for over 30 years.”

The House Black Caucus was split on the issue with some speaking in favor, others in oppositions.

State Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, said he at first didn’t trust the process, but now he does.

“This is so important to me,” Evans said. “I’ve seen what happens when an individual is restricted. I’ve seen the men cry when they lose their jobs because they didn’t want to put on there they had a felony conviction. I’ve seen the young folks who were rejected for financial aid because they have a background because they had possession of marijuana and I’ve seen the destruction that’s caused to a generation.”

He said he’s happy to join others in rolling back the War on Drugs.

State Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, opposed the bill.

“Our community is still being used for people to make a profit and to get rich and give nothing back to the community,” Flowers said.

The measure passed 66 to 47. It passed the Senate previously and will now be sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Pritzker called the bill a historic step for the state.

“The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation,” the governor said in a statement Friday afternoon. “This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance. In the interest of equity and criminal justice reform, I look forward to signing this monumental legislation.”

The governor also praised the sponsors of the bill and others who worked to get the legislation passed.

 

Article by Greg Bishop with The Center Square. For more TCS visit https://www.thecentersquare.com/illinois

 

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Illinois News Network, publisher of ILNews.org, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media company dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility in the state of Illinois. INN is Illinois’ pioneering non-profit news brand, offering content from the statehouse and beyond to Illinoisans through their local media of choice and from their digital hub at ILNews.org. Springfield Daily was granted republishing permission by INN.

Illinois Govt

Pritzker guarantees Illinois lawmakers pay increase with biggest budget in state history

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While Illinoisans will be paying higher taxes, Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he’s going to give state lawmakers at least a $1,600 pay increase because they’re hard workers.

Pritzker said he’ll sign the budget bills being sent his way, despite the ire from taxpayers that lawmakers gave themselves a raise while doubling the state’s gas tax.

Pritzker was asked multiple times in Chicago Tuesday if he’d line-item veto more than $280,000 in lawmaker pay increases when he gets the budget that was passed in overtime session.

“Look, this was a highly negotiated budget,” Pritzker said. “We had the Republicans and Democrats coming to the table back and forth on this and so I’m going to sign the budget that we put forward.”

State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said if the budget was highly negotiated, why was the Senate unanimous in wanting to keep their pay flat? He said in the House there were Republicans and Democrats ready to vote to freeze their pay.

“Effectively the will of the people and the legislators want to forego raises,” Skillicorn said.

Illinois lawmakers are the highest paid state legislators in the region, making a base pay of $67,836 with a $111 a day per diem. That’s going to go up.

The measure to keep lawmaker pay flat passed the Senate late Friday but when the bill got to the House, state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, put a non-concur motion on it, holding the measure from a floor vote. He hasn’t responded to messages seeking comment.

Multiple lawmakers have called on the governor to line-item veto the pay raises. Pritzker was insistent he’s going to sign the budget as is. He even defended lawmakers.

“They’re working night and day, Republicans and Democrats, I credit them all,” Pritzker said. “Many of them are taking on much more than people expect. They’re also away from their families for days, sometimes a week at a time.”

Skillicorn said said taxpayers shouldn’t have sympathy for lawmakers.

“We haven’t had a balanced budget in over a decade,” Skillicorn said. “We have over $6 billion in backed bills. Clearly the legislators haven’t done a good job.”

Illinois’ backlog of bills isn’t the only debt. Illinois also has $136 billion of unfunded pension liability, among the worst credit rating in the country, the second-highest property taxes and more problems.

Before leaving town, lawmakers approved the biggest spending budget in Illinois state history without addressing some of the main cost drivers like the increased pension debt.

 

Article by Greg Bishop with The Center Square. For more TCS visit https://www.thecentersquare.com/illinois

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Gambling expansion pieces still coming together, but supporters bet on passage

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Sponsors of a measure to expand gambling in Illinois said Tuesday that they’re confident a package that includes new casinos, sports wagering and increased taxes for video gambling will be approved by Friday’s deadline.

State Sen. Terry Link, D-Indian Creek, said allowing more gambling in Illinois is a win for taxpayers.

“It’s a user fee,” Link said. “If you want to go in and you want to gamble, you pay. But all the residents of Illinois gain from it without a tax increase.”

Supporters said the expansion bill to be filed for Senate Bill 516 will include more casinos, sports betting and increased taxes on video gambling. They said they didn’t how much those taxes would be increased.

Jimmy Centers, spokesman for the Bet on Main Street coalition opposed to higher taxes for video gambling, said there’s a lot of talk about fair taxing in Illinois, but video gambling operators already pay 30 percent tax.

“[Gambling machine operators] keep main streets vibrant, they create jobs, they reinvest in their community, all of which is going to be jeopardized if a massive video gaming tax increase is passed here at the end of Illinois’ legislative session.”

On the sports betting component, there’s discussion still going on about a “penalty box” provision that organizations like fantasy sports operators FanDuel and DraftKings have opposed. A “penalty box” provision could keep FanDuel and DraftKings from taking part in sports betting for a period of time. Matt King with FanDuel has said the penalty box is an effort by wealthy and connected casino operators to protect their turf.

“If we don’t pass something, we’ll all be in the penalty box,” said state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford.

The measure will also include new casinos for Rockford, Walker’s Bluff and other locations, but not Springfield.

AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan said it’s time to act on creating new casino because it will create construction jobs.

“Gaming expansion has been discussed over and over and over again here at the statehouse,” he said. “The pros vastly outweigh the cons in getting this done.”

Syverson said the effort underway is about more than just jobs, it’s also about positioning Illinois to be ahead of neighboring states.

“[This] will help the state retain some of the $1.5 billion that leaves Illinois and goes to our five surrounding states every year,” he said. “Now we know that Wisconsin and Indiana are planning major casinos right on the border as well.”

Supporters said they anticipate getting the gambling measure approved by the end of the week.

 

Article by Greg Bishop with The Center Square. For more TCS visit https://www.thecentersquare.com/illinois

 

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Lawmakers could move quickly on modified measure for recreational cannabis in Illinois

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Illinois state lawmakers could move quickly to legalize cannabis Wednesday with a Friday deadline looming.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaigned on legalizing cannabis for recreational use by adults. State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, had Senate Bill 7 earlier this year that was mostly void of details. A few weeks ago Steans, Pritzker, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, and other lawmakers revealed a bill they said was about addressing the harms caused by the war on drugs while also creating a safe and legal patchwork for legal cannabis sales.

But opponents took issue with several parts of the legislation, including provisions for expungement of marijuana-related convictions and allowing people to grow marijuana at home.

To address some of those concerns, a measure about stolen property and pawn shops could be gutted and replaced with an amendment to legalize cannabis.

House Bill 1438 passed the House unanimously April 3. The measure even passed a Senate committee unanimously earlier this month. An amendment gutting the contents of the bill and replacing it with a measure to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis was submitted Tuesday and is expected in committee before it heads to the Senate floor this afternoon.

Taxes would be 10 percent for marijuana with less than 35 percent THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. There’d be a 25 percent tax for products with higher THC levels and cannabis-infused products like edibles will have a tax rate of 20 percent. The money would be split among various programs and the state’s General Revenue Fund. Local governments could impose a 3 percent tax on cannabis sales.

The measure includes a provision for “social equity applicants” who would be able to get financial assistance and special consideration in licenses. The measure says “individuals who have been arrested or incarcerated due to drug laws suffer long-lasting negative consequences, including impacts to employment, business ownership, housing, health, and long-term financial well-being.” They’ll be offered “among other things, financial assistance and license application benefits to individuals most directly and adversely impacted by the enforcement of cannabis-related laws who are interested in starting cannabis business establishments.”

A committee of lawmakers with legal backgrounds expressed concern Tuesday night with the “social equity” portion of the cannabis legalization bill, saying the reference to giving priority to a subset of people based on things like rates of incarceration being challenged under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, saying it could be construed as a sort of “back-door reference” to prioritizing one racial subset of people over another. Ben Ruddell, a lawyer with the ACLU of Illinois, said the classifications would hold up if challenged in court because the special preference isn’t based on race or gender.

The measure prohibits regulation of medical cannabis by local governments, but it allows for local governments to restrict recreational sales within their jurisdiction. The measure also gives local governments the ability to prohibit home cultivation. It also limits home cultivation to medical marijuana patients.

“Limiting homegrow to just patients seems like too big a concession to law enforcement,” NORML of Illinois Director Dan Linn said.

The initial measure in Senate Bill 7 would have allowed adults to grow up to five plants at home, but law enforcement groups worried that would only add to black market sales and couldn’t be enforced.

Adults 21 and older would have certain limits on how much they can have, like around an ounce of the dried plant, and smaller quantities of oils or edibles.

But to get it at a dispensary, buyers should prepare to have an ID scanned if the law is passed.

“A dispensing organization shall use an electronic reader or electronic scanning device to scan a purchaser’s government-issued identification, if applicable, to determine the purchaser’s age and the validity of the identification,” the measure states. “Any identifying or personal information of a purchaser obtained or received in accordance with this Section shall not be retained, used, shared or disclosed for any purpose except as authorized by this Act.”

The measure would allow for a variety of licenses, including for dispensaries, craft growers and cannabis transportation.

The measure will be heard in a Senate committee Wednesday afternoon, where issues over the expungement of certain cannabis-related crimes may be addressed. Some have raised concerns about expungements of convictions of crimes that would still be a crime even if the bill passed.

The governor’s proposed budget relies on $170 million from cannabis licensing fees. That does not include whatever sales tax revenue would be generated when sales start as early as Jan. 1, 2020, if the law passes. Estimates of sales revenue range from $350 million to north of $750 million.

“It’s a good compromise and while there are issues that will need to be addressed, this has the potential to pass and end a prohibition that has lasted over 80 years,” Linn said.

 

Article by Greg Bishop with The Center Square. For more TCS visit https://www.thecentersquare.com/illinois

 

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