The Illinois House could take a vote on the legalization of recreation marijuana Friday, the final day of the spring legislative session.
The House Judiciary-Criminal Committee voted 13-6 late Thursday evening to send the measure to the full chamber. Gov. JB Pritzker, who campaigned for office on a promise to legalize pot, is expected to sign it if it reaches his desk.
The bill, approved Wednesday in the Senate, would allow residents age 21 and older to legally possess 30 grams of cannabis, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate or 500 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product as of Jan. 1. Nonresidents could possess 15 grams of cannabis.
The measure creates a licensed cultivation and dispensary system while directing Pritzker to pardon people with past convictions for low-level pot possession.
Supporters have hailed the measure as an acknowledgement that the prohibition marijuana has failed, and they argued that the bill will begin to address decades of racial disparities in the prosecution of drug crimes.
"Fundamentally, prohibition hasn't worked," said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat who's sponsoring the bill in the House. "It's really that simple"
Among those testifying in support of the bill at Thursday's committee hearing was Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, a proponent of the bill's expungement provisions.
"This is not simply a measure of social justice and equity; it is a public safety issue," Foxx said. Clearing people's records of marijuana convictions would help them gain access to educational and job opportunities and help prevent them from committing future crimes, she said.
Opponents have raised concerns that the bill will increase teen use of marijuana and result in more people driving while high, and have also cited health concerns, among other problems.
Ahead of the committee vote, supporters said privately that they expected a close vote on the House floor due to concerns from African American lawmakers that provisions to provide expungement were more complicated than had originally been envisioned.
After pushback from fellow lawmakers, law enforcement and other interests, the bill's sponsors tweaked their original proposal to win broader support, limiting possession of homegrown cannabis to patients in the state's medical marijuana program and toning down provisions dealing with expungement of criminal records.
The bill would allow employers to maintain a "zero tolerance" policy for cannabis in the workplace and would create a task force through the Illinois State Police to examine ways to enforce DUI laws involving marijuana use.
Those changes won a handful of Republican votes in the Senate, and GOP Rep. David Welter of Morris has signed on as a co-sponsor in the House.
To allow for pardons and expungement, Pritzker's office said the state police would identify past convictions for up to 30 grams, including possession and manufacturing and intent to deliver, as long as such convictions are not associated with a violent crime.
After local state's attorneys have an opportunity to object, the state's Prisoner Review Board would make a recommendation to the governor on whether to issue a pardon. If a pardon is issued, the attorney general would seek expungement of the related records in court.
For cases involving up to 500 grams possession, local state's attorneys can ask a court to vacate those convictions as can individuals, represented by legal aid.
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