Illinois became the 11th state in the nation to legalize recreational cannabis this week, as the issue continues to face an uncertain future in Connecticut, with the state’s business community among those raising questions that slowed progress to the point of inaction in the just-concluded legislative session.
In a Chicago signing ceremony for the new law (effective January 1, 2020), Gov. J. B. Pritzker noted that Illinois is the first state to fully legalize commercial sales through the legislature, rather than through referendum. (Vermont’s legislature approved a narrower bill last year.) The bill makes legal for the first time the licensed growth, sales, possession and consumption of cannabis for adults 21 and older. Like Connecticut, Illinois already allows the sale of marijuana to patients with certain illnesses.
In 2018 and this year, more than 20 states have considered legalization legislation.
Among the issues being grappled with in the proposal that the Connecticut legislature spent five months considering was how to handle those previously convicted for possession. Some legislators here – as in other states – noted that communities of color were disproportionately impacted by the criminal laws.
Illinois’ Governor emphasized that his state’s new law provides for automatic expungement of arrests for marijuana possession under 30 grams, and that he will pardon those with convictions for possession up to 30 grams. Individuals and prosecutors may go to court to seek expungement of cases involving up to 500 grams. There are also provisions to help minority business owners seeking to enter the industry.
Cannabis flower that has under 35 percent THC will be taxed at 10 percent, products that contain over 35 percent THC (like vape oils and other concentrates) will be taxed at 25 percent, and cannabis-infused products will be taxed at 20 percent, according to published reports.
Among other issues are opposition from law enforcement, which has been vocal in both states, and concerns in communities of color, which the Illinois bill sought to address. Illinois joins Colorado, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, Alaska, Michigan, Nevada, Washington, Maine, Vermont and Washington D.C. The federal government has yet to make recreational marijuana legal.
The Connecticut Business and Industry has pointed out that “many CBIA members, especially manufacturers, are concerned with marijuana legalization’s impact on their ability to meet workforce demands.” Among the expressed worries are related to possible exposure to civil liability if an employer has “a good faith belief that an employee possesses or appears impaired by cannabis.” Representatives of some of the state’s largest businesses – particularly those with federal contracts - also point out that many employees are required to have security clearances to do their jobs, and as a result cannot use or possess cannabis, which remains an illegal substance under federal law.
The state’s medical marijuana program added five new conditions for treatment earlier this month. Medical conditions specifically identified in the law include: cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn's disease or post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients also have to be at least 18 years of age and be a resident of Connecticut.
The program now has more than 33,000 patients and 1,111 prescribing physicians. The Connecticut law prohibits ingesting marijuana in a bus, a school bus or any moving vehicle; in the workplace; on any school grounds or any public or private school, dormitory, college or university property; in any public place; or in the presence of anyone under 18. It also prohibits any use of palliative marijuana that endangers the health or well-being of another person, other than the patient or primary caregiver.