Some fear drawbacks as recreational marijuana legalization nears

By Ella Lee, Ben Conboy, Xavier Ortega, Jerad Karasek and Madison Schlegel

Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaigned on legalizing recreational marijuana in Illinois, and the official proposal in the Illinois General Assembly just cleared a major hurdle.

On Wednesday night, the Illinois Senate voted to pass the legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Heather Steans, 38-17, in a vote that gathered bipartisan support. The bill will now move to the state House of Representatives, where it will likely pass. Pritzker has said he will sign the bill when it arrives on his desk.

The bill would allow Illinois residents 21-years and older to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of raw cannabis. The legislation also seeks to use tax revenue from the sale and purchase of marijuana to address past injustices done to communities that have been “most adversely affected by cannabis-related laws,” according to the bill.

The bill would also expunge convictions for people convicted of marijuana crimes in the state, meaning that as many as 750,000 people could have their cases expunged, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

Employers would still be free to drug test employees under the bill.

Steans said in a press release on Wednesday that the bill is not just about letting stoners blaze up, but it’s about building a healthier and more just community.

“This plan keeps our children safe by prioritizing public safety, includes extensive restorative justice measures and brings in much-needed revenue for our state,” Steans said in the press release.

Eiron Cudaback, an assistant professor of health sciences at DePaul and a trained neuropharmacologist with expertise in cannabinoid research, said he is wary of what the drug’s legalization could look like given the lack of scientific research regarding its effects.

“It has historically been challenging for scientists to study the therapeutic value of cannabinoids — again, that’s not just THC, it’s any of the compounds derived from the marijuana plant — it has been particularly challenging to study them given the restrictions of the federal government,” Cudaback said.

Cudaback lives in Seattle and commutes to Chicago every week to teach at DePaul. He said that shortly after he took his position here, the state of Washington legalized recreational marijuanause via a public referendum. While Illinois’ bill will not passed this way, Cudaback said that the unexpected drawbacks of the law might affect Illinoisans too.

“As people started to see what happens around you when you legalized it — growing operations sprouting up right next to your own residence, massive citations for homeless persons in the city limits for smoking in public because they don’t have a home to smoke it in — those kinds of things weren’t made available information to the public,” Cudaback said.

The Illinois state House is expected to pass the legislation any day, sending the bill to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office for signature.

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