Illinois Lawmakers Near Completion of Cannabis Legalization Draft Bill
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Illinois Lawmakers Near Completion of Cannabis Legalization Draft Bill

Formal legislation could be introduced next week.

May 1, 2019

Illinois lawmakers are in the final stages of the drafting process for legislation that would legalize adult-use cannabis in the state, and Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said the draft bill will likely be circulated as soon as next week.

“Then that gives us a good chunk of the month of May to get it through the legislative process,” he told Cannabis Business Times.

While the Illinois legislature is active throughout the entire year, lawmakers stop meeting regularly in Springfield at the end of May, Lindsey said. He and other legalization advocates want to ensure that a bill can get through the legislative process—passing out of both chambers—before the end of the month.

Although the specifics of the bill are being kept under wraps until the draft bill is unveiled, Lindsey said the big picture hasn’t changed.

“We’re taking the existing medical cannabis system, using that as kind of our launching pad, … [and] modifying it in significant ways to get it calibrated for the adult-use market,” he said. “So, in that respect, it’s very similar to what we’ve seen in other states.”

What’s different, he added, is that lawmakers are drafting very detailed language that provides the state’s regulatory agencies with specific guidance on how to implement an adult-use cannabis market, as opposed to putting a measure in front of voters that then requires the legislature to roll out rules and regulations.

“Rather than have big picture issues put into the statute and then leave the rest to rules, a lot of those rules are actually incorporated into the statutes itself, into the act,” Lindsey said. “When you get agencies involved that are cooperative and want to make this work, then it really opens the discussion up in ways that I’ve not seen before. It’s been a very interesting process.”

That, he added, is why this legalization bill has been in the works for nearly two years. State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) are the main sponsors of the legislation, which is backed by MPP. The bill is based on language Steans’ Senate Bill 7, which will be amended to include the substantial language put forth in the upcoming draft bill.

RELATED: Illinois Lawmakers Consider Two Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Proposals

The Senate Executive Committee passed Senate Bill 7 by a 12-4 vote in early April. Last week, Steans said in an interview for the Capitol Cast podcast by Capitol News Illinois that she hoped to file substantial language by the end of April or very early May.

Although negotiations are still happening behind closed doors, Lindsey did say that the legislation aims to create a fair and diverse adult-use market.

“When it comes to the sponsors, the lawmakers involved and the governor’s office, there is very strong interest in ensuring that the program will be fair and that it will be a diverse program,” he said. “That’s really been, I think, more than any other particular topic, the main issue that I’m seeing between the lawmakers involved and the governor’s office.”

Opponents of legalization are largely concerned about the prospect of increased DUI cases, Lindsey said. “The DUI question is one that ranges from state to state, where there are some indicators that it really doesn’t do very much to change driving behavior [and] there are other studies that suggest that things do change. Both sides of the debate will point to their respective studies. I’d say, from my perspective, it doesn’t change things substantially. Especially when you compare cannabis-related DUI figures with alcohol, it’s not even close. But there is still concern there, and that will often dominate the discussion with opponents.”

Overall, though, Lindsey is optimistic about the legislation. “I’m very excited. I think it’s going to be a very good bill, and there are some innovative things in there that I’m looking forward to talking about that I think other states will notice and want to consider for their own programs."