The state's next governor said he'll make legalizing marijuana a top priority, but adult consumers could be waiting a year or more for recreational sales to begin in Illinois.
The director of the state’s leading cannabis legalization group said Illinoisans can expect to see industrial hemp cultivation before recreational marijuana sales in Illinois.
Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker said despite Michigan voters approving legalization last month, Illinois could look at other states with recreational sales operations to find the right regulatory structure and still be the first state in the Midwest to offer retail cannabis sales.
“The good news about being eight or ninth to get this done is we can look at what works and put it in place in Illinois,” Pritzker said.
It may take 12 months for either state to get recreational sales, said Dan Linn, Illinois state director for the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws. Even if Illinois lawmakers pass something with an immediate effective date early next year, they would still have to craft rules to allow existing medical dispensaries to take part in recreational sales. That could take some time. Linn said he expects Michigan to beat Illinois to the punch.
Linn said there’s a lot to discuss on the issue surrounding recreational sales in Illinois. He said there should be equity in the licensing process, along with provisions to help communities hardest hit by the war on drugs and licenses for social consumption clubs. He also wants consumers to be able to grow their own cannabis.
“That’s something that as a consumer-based organization we value very strongly,” Linn said. “We think that having that type of home cultivation aspect allows for those small business opportunities to exist.”
Some law enforcement groups, like the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, are concerned that home cultivation could be a problem.
“It becomes almost impossible to regulate and it really opens up a lot for the black market too,” said Ed Wojcicki, spokesman for the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.
Colorado officials cautioned Illinois lawmakers earlier this year about home cultivation feeding into a “gray market,” where cannabis goes untaxed and unregulated.
Tax rates are another issue. Experts have told Illinois lawmakers in other hearings about the importance of striking the right balance on cannabis taxes. Setting taxes too high could push users back to unregulated markets.
Wojcicki said law enforcement officials want to be at the table for discussions about recreational cannabis to ensure regulations address safety for the public at large and young people in particular. He also said the group would like to see tight regulations on how potent edibles can be.
Congress passed a farm bill this week that legalized hemp farming. Linn said Illinois residents will probably see hemp fields before recreational sales in retail outlets.
“I think that the Chicago Port Authority or some of those larger industry-type places should start looking into developing processing mills so that Illinois can capture that Midwestern central hub advantage once the entire country goes to hemp farming,” he said.
Linn said hemp farming will provide long-term economic advantages.
"The time is right for the state to capitalize on that,” he said.
Hemp, which can be used for everything from food to industrial products, does not contain THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.