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How close is Illinois to legalizing marijuana for recreational use?

When it comes to the always controversial issue of marijuana, Illinois has recently taken some actions that could be described as progressive from decriminalizing possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana to launching a pilot program permitting the sale of medical marijuana to those with one of 40 debilitating diseases.

As marked as this progress has been, two lawmakers have now proposed legislation that, if passed, would take a major leap forward by adding the Land of Lincoln to the list of eight states legalizing the drug for recreational purposes.

What's called for in this bill?     

The legalization measure, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), would legalize the possession and/or purchase of 28 grams of marijuana (roughly an ounce) by adults 21 and older, and allow them to grow five plants.

The bill calls for the drug to be grown, processed and sold only by those facilities that are licensed and regulated by the state, and in accordance with strict testing and labeling requirements.

The measure would also tax marijuana at the state's standard 6.25 percent sales tax, as well as at an additional rate of $50 per ounce wholesale.

How would this apply to out-of-state visitors?

Out-of-state visitors would be able to purchase marijuana in the same manner as state residents. However, they would be breaking the law if they attempted to transport the marijuana purchased across state lines.

What's the rationale for making Illinois the first Midwestern state to allow recreational pot?

According to the bill's sponsors, the measure could generate considerable tax revenue -- estimates show anywhere between $350 million to $700 million per year -- with 50 percent going to the state general fund, and the rest being divided among schools and drug abuse/treatment programs.

In addition to re-directing these considerable proceeds into state coffers, as opposed to the black market, supporters argue that it would preserve much-needed funds for law enforcement, state courts and the Department of Corrections.

Perhaps most importantly, they contend it would make streets safer by "removing the criminal element from marijuana production" and do a better job of keeping the drug out of the hands of minors.

What are the bill's chances of passing?

Thus far, neither Governor Bruce Rauner nor House Speaker Michael Madigan has commented on the bill. However, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police has spoken out against it.

It's worth nothing, however, that both Sen. Steans and Rep. Cassidy have indicated that they won't be calling for a formal vote on the bill this session in order to allow more time for hearings and to get more fellow lawmakers onboard.

While this is certainly an interesting development, people must be aware that nothing has changed as far as the law is concerned. Indeed, while possession of less than 10 grams is still a civil violation, possession of more than 30 grams is still a felony punishable by a lengthy prison sentence and large fines under state law, and these same sorts of felony-level penalties also exist for sales and cultivation.

This is not to mention, of course, the federal prohibition on marijuana.

If you have been charged with any manner of major state drug-related felony or federal drug crime, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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