January 1 marked the start of something big in Illinois, as it became the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize the use of recreational marijuana.
As Folio Weekly has noted many times before, there are essentially two routes to legalization. One route involves organizers getting voters to sign petitions and vote in favor of a bill via the ballot (which seems to be a dead issue in Florida, for now). The other route, the one that has proven perhaps even more popular, involves a state’s legislature approving a bill and sending it to the state’s governor, who has the option of signing it into law. That was the route our neighbors up in the Prairie State took, and the results have been spectacular.
Under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which the Illinois General Assembly passed on May 31, 2019, adults are now able to purchase up to 30 grams of flower or buy edibles with a maximum THC count of 500 milligrams; they can even buy as much as five grams of concentrate, also known as “wax” or “shatter.” Similar amounts would have resulted in felony charges in the past, but an estimated 116,000 residents with prior convictions will now be eligible to have their records cleared. Governor J.B. Pritzker, who signed the bill into law on June 25, 2019, has already issued pardons to 11,000 of them, and the rest are lining up.
Day one saw more than $3 million in sales; that number had doubled to $5 million within two days and soared to nearly $11 million within the first five days. Sales had stopped by January 7, because dispensaries had run out of weed for the general population. That has happened in several states in recent years, but it has never happened nearly as quickly. It will be a while before we can clearly see what effect this will have on general conditions there, but one may assume it will be similar to those states that preceded: fewer arrests, less crime and an overall improvement in quality of life. This is even better news than usual, since Illinois’ most famous city, Chicago, has been plagued by a brutal and dramatic spike in violent crime that has captured the morbid fascination of an entire nation. Murder is on the rise from coast to coast; our own city, Jacksonville, saw a historic high in 2019, and the new year is already off to a bloody start.
Legalizing weed will likely have no noticeable effect, since the bulk of that crime is driven by the illicit trade in cocaine, opiates and other drugs that even the most libertarian-minded among us will admit are illegal for good reason. But any little bit helps, and the elimination of criminal penalties will, at the very least, prevent many young people from being saddled with the kinds of records that can block their entry into honest work, which then increases their likelihood of crossing over to the dark side.
Could this happen here? Nope. Illinois has 176 legislators, a healthy quorum (113) of whom are Democrats—as is the governor. In Florida, 96 of our 160 legislators are Republicans. So even though Florida Governor Ron DeSantis seems more open to the idea than most of his peers, he will probably never be presented with the option to legalize recreational marijuana. As our state struggles to move in the right direction, one can only hope that conservatives will see the tidal wave of free money washing in from Lake Michigan and consider following the lead.