Illinois bill to legalize recreational marijuana wins legislative approval

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois will become the 11th U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults under a bill that won final passage in the state legislature on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Cannabis plants grow inside the Tilray factory hothouse in Cantanhede, Portugal April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/File Photo

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the measure in a 66-47 vote, following Senate approval on Wednesday.

Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker said he will sign the bill, which allows for previous convictions dealing with amounts of marijuana under 30 grams to be erased, and which could eventually generate as much as $500 million in new annual revenue for the financially troubled state.

“In the interest of equity and criminal justice reform, I look forward to signing this monumental legislation,” Pritzker said in a statement.

Illinois will be the second state to legalize small amounts of marijuana for adult use solely through the legislative process, following Vermont, which did so in 2018. Since 2012, voters in nine states and Washington, D.C. approved legalization measures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“It is time to hit the reset button on the war on drugs,” said Democratic State Representative Kelly Cassidy, the bill’s House sponsor, adding that the measure, which would take effect Jan. 1, would set the “gold standard” for a regulated market.

Opponents raised health, safety and financial concerns over legalizing marijuana.

“My goodness, there sure seems to be a lot of red flags on this issue,” said Republican State Representative Mark Batinick.

The legislation will raise about $57 million in new revenue in fiscal 2020, which begins on July 1, and as much as $500 million annually when fully implemented, according to its sponsors.

The bill earmarks some of the proceeds after administrative and other expenses for drug prevention, public safety and programs in disadvantaged communities, while 35% will flow into Illinois’ general fund and 10% will be used to pay overdue bills incurred by the state.

Pritzker included new revenue from legalized marijuana in his nearly $39 billion proposed fiscal 2020 budget.

In addition to Vermont, states that have legalized recreational marijuana are Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Michigan.

The use of marijuana for medical purposes, which Illinois authorized starting in 2014, is legal in 23 states.

Reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis