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Illinois' New Marijuana Law: Recreational Legalization and Reparations

Gavel and marijuana. Concept about drug vs justice.
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 27, 2019

This week, Illinois became the eleventh state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. That's not too surprising, given the national trend towards legalization and new Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker's comments last year: "We can begin by immediately removing one area of racial injustice in our criminal justice system ... Let's legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana."

And while much of the state's new weed law resembles those passed elsewhere, Illinois took a decidedly different path when addressing the local communities hit hardest by decades of the War on Drugs. A full 25 percent of state tax revenue on cannabis transactions will be allocated for the state's R3 Program to "fund strategies that focus on violence prevention, re-entry and health services to areas across the state that are objectively found to be acutely suffering from the horrors of violence, bolstered by concentrated disinvestment."

The Three R's

R3 stands for Recover, Reinvest, and Renew, and the program has, in some circles, been likened to another r-word. "What we are doing here is about reparations," state representative Jehan Gordon-Booth said. "After 40 years of treating entire communities like criminals, here comes this multibillion-dollar industry, and guess what? Black and brown people have been put at the very center of this policy in a way that no other state has ever done." That policy includes:

  • Waiving half the application fee for license-seekers who are either long-term residents of a "disproportionately impacted area" or who have been (or who have had a direct family member) incarcerated for a minor pot crime that is eligible for expungement under the bill; and
  • Providing special low-interest loans from the state, direct grant aid for start-up costs, and other financial incentives for those same license seekers.

Funds will also be allocated to address "economic development, violence prevention services, re-entry services, youth development, and civil legal aid" in communities ravaged by drug violence.

And One More: Record

The new law will also aim to expunge arrest records and criminal convictions for possession of small amounts of weed. While some jurisdictions, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, have been proactive in using computer code to clear cannabis convictions, other states, like Michigan, have moved more slowly to address the issue of legal weed now and illegal weed years ago.

Illinois will automatically wipe arrest records for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and then submit a list of criminal convictions to the state clemency board. Governor Pritzker says the state is hoping to erase nearly 800,000 criminal records.

If you need help clearing your criminal history, or you're wondering why you've been locked up for something that is legal now, contact an experienced drug crime attorney.

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