By Alan Pyke
The 11th state to defy federal marijuana prohibition ranks first in social equity ideas to actually address the War on Drugs.
Illinois will forever be 11th on the list of American states to legalize marijuana. But it’s got a good shot at the number one spot on any list of inclusive, socially therapeutic cannabis industries.
The law Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) signed Tuesday legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana for adults borrows much of its technical, scientific, and economic detail from states like Colorado and Washington, where lawmakers essentially wrote the pioneering legislative texts which largely eschewed decades of cannabis policy rooted in “Reefer Madness” for the first time.
Illinois lawmakers, however, have cut a new trail on policy questions that have bedeviled legalization-minded legislators elsewhere. Low-income communities of color that have borne disproportionate shares of the social and fiscal costs of the War on Drugs will have a dramatic leg up in the race for dispensary and grow-shop licenses in Illinois ahead of the law’s primary implementation date of January 1, 2020.
Those same communities will be first in line for direct investment from the new tax revenues cannabis will generate for Illinois. A full 25 percent of that new money is required to be set aside for the new “Restore, Reinvest, and Renew Program,” colloquially known as “R3.”
The R3 program’s community reinvestments are only one part of what state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D) termed the bill’s “reparations.” The high economic barriers to entry to legal cannabis sales around the country have already created an industry where profits are largely extracted by people already rich enough to be professional investors.
“What we are doing here is about reparations,” Gordon-Booth said. “After 40 years of treating entire communities like criminals, here comes this multibillion-dollar industry, and guess what? Black and brown people have been put at the very center of this policy in a way that no other state has ever done.”
The law will wipe out arrest records for possession of small amounts of cannabis semi-automatically. State police officials have until the end of the calendar year to gather a list of everyone arrested for having less than an ounce of pot on them going back to 2013. Those arrests will be automatically expunged at year end, and the agency will then set about gathering such records from earlier years.