Illinois has moved a step closer to legalizing recreational cannabis use after HB 1438 cleared the Senate following a 38-17 vote.

The bill would permit recreational cannabis to be sold to anyone aged 21 or over throughout the state from Jan. 1, 2020. The current legislative session ends tomorrow and the race is on to pass HB 1438 before the adjournment. It now heads back to the House and if it is approved it will go to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk to be signed.

Pritzker, who was sworn in as the state’s 43rd governor at the beginning of 2019, has earmarked $170 million in revenue from a tax on adult-use marijuana sales in his 2020 budget. He is a passionate advocate of legalization.

“Illinois is poised to become the first state in the nation that put equity and criminal justice reform at the heart of its approach to legalizing cannabis, and I’m grateful that the Senate has taken this important step with a bipartisan vote,” he said.

Pritzker praised Senators Heather Steans and Toi Hutchinson for their “tremendous work” on getting the bill to this point. He urged the House to take decisive action, and it indicated it would act quickly on the bill as the deadline looms large on the horizon.

In a bid to garner more support, HB 1438 was amended so that it would only permit medical marijuana patients to grow their own cannabis at home, rather than all adults.

Opponents have said they fear legalization would jeopardize the health and wellbeing of children and that it could lead to a spike in addiction and mental health issues. Yet Steans said it will help eradicate the black market and make cannabis use much safer, while arguing that limiting home growing would also reduce safety concerns.

If the bill passes into law, it would make Illinois the 11th state to legalize recreational cannabis use. Analysts at the Brightfield Group noted that Illinois already has one of the country’s most progressive medical marijuana programs and said legalization of adult-use cannabis would signal “a rapid eastern expansion of cannabis”.

As of May 2019, almost 67,000 patients participate in Illinois’ medical cannabis and opioid alternative programs.

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