Just more than a week after introducing a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois, sponsors have begun retooling the measure to appease critics.

In one of the most fundamental changes, sponsors say it is likely they will eliminate a provision to let all adult state residents grow up to five plants at home.

A member of the leading cannabis advocacy group, Illinois NORML, said if that change is made, the group will have to reconsider whether to support the bill.

But the change would address concerns from law enforcement that the homegrown provisions would make it difficult to find illegal growers.

Steans_Heather

Sen. Heather Steans, D-Lake Forest

Hutchinson,_Toi

Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights. 

Cassidy_Kelly

Rep. Kelly M. Cassidy, R-Chicago

State Sen. Heather Steans and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who are sponsors of the measure, as well as state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, confirmed they were strongly considering limiting five homegrown plants to medical marijuana patients only to ensure their access to medicine.

"We know we're filing an amendment," Steans said of the homegrown cutback. "I think that is likely."

Westchester police Chief Steve Stelter, president of the Illinois Chiefs of Police Association, welcomed the proposed change, saying it will help prevent illegal growing operations.

"That would make a huge difference," Stelter said.

The chiefs would still have concerns about how to legally check to make sure medical marijuana growers limit themselves to five plants, but that is another matter.

The executive director of the longtime cannabis activist group Illinois NORML, Dan Linn, said he would have to consult with his advisory board on how to react to such a change.

"We'd have to look at whether we're still able to support the legislation," he said.

NORML did support the legalization of marijuana in the state of Washington, which prohibits homegrown pot for the general population, but many other states do allow homegrown, Linn said.

"People say to pass the best bill you can and come back later to try and make it better," Linn said. "But we've had significant problems with the (existing) medical cannabis program that we still have not been able to fix."

The change would come in an amendment to the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act that sponsors hope to introduce in the next week or two. The timing is urgent, since lawmakers only have until May 31 to pass the bill in this legislative session. If approved, the measure would allow licensed dealers to sell cannabis beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

Sponsors of the bill held months of meetings and negotiations with numerous stakeholders, including law enforcement, industry members and representatives of Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The parties have continued giving feedback of all sorts since the governor unveiled the proposal May 5.

Sixty members of the House, a slight majority of the 118-member body, have signed a resolution asking to slow the legalization process. But Cassidy maintained that the bill is not in trouble.

"We introduced it anticipating there will be a round of changes," Cassidy said. "We've gotten a lot of good feedback."

The first hearing on the new legalization bill is set for Wednesday in Springfield.

rmccoppin@chicagotribune.com

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(c)2019 the Chicago Tribune

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