A look inside a cannabis cultivation center as lawmakers debate legalizing recreational marijuana

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. — The movement to legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois appears headed for a vote by the end of the month, and as lawmakers debate legalizing the drug, plants used for medicinal purposes are already growing under strict regulations.

Medical cannabis is legal in Illinois, but Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaigned on legalizing recreational marijuana.

The governor is counting on $170 million from licensing fees to help balance the state budget. However, he said revenue isn’t the most important reason to legalize marijuana.

“For two years on the campaign trail, I talked about this issue and how important it is to legalize the use of cannabis for reasons other than revenue,” he said.

Pritzker said his plan to legalize recreational marijuana would help bring equality to parts of the state impacted disproportionately by the war on drugs.

“This has been a set of laws that has been unevenly prosecuted mostly against people of color, often with communities that have been left out and left behind,” Pritzker said.

The proposed legislation would throw out some marijuana convictions and include low interest loans of $20 million for applicants in high poverty areas and communities with high rates of arrest for marijuana offenses.

In a written statement, mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot said the plan “allows Illinois the opportunity to put an end to a long overdue and unjust drug policy that has disproportionately affected Chicago’s black and brown neighborhoods for decades.”

If passed, the measure would allow anyone 21 and older to buy cannabis for recreational use from state licensed “dispensaries” starting next year.

Illinois residents could possess up to about an ounce of marijuana.

In the meantime, plants for medical purposes are growing at a cannabis cultivation center in Elk Grove Village. They're under strict guidelines to ensure their safety for medical use.

John Sullivan, the director of the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois, came up with a program that ensured patients got a high-tested and well-regulated product.

“So Illinois was really the first state to regulate cannabis in the way it has,” he said.

If the legislation were to pass, Illinois would become the 11th state to legalize recreational pot. Outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he supported the governor’s approach.

“What we do know from Colorado, Michigan and others is you can learn from other places, and do it the right way and I think the governor has been very thoughtful about it,” he said.

However, a group of opposing legislators said the plan could compound a societal problem of substance abuse and addiction.

“They don’t want people doing – eating gummy bears on the weekend,” Rep. Marty Moylan (D-Des Plaines) said. “They want sustained growth. They want people using this stuff every day, so they can get a big return on their money.”

If the plan were to follow the governor’s preferred timeline, the legalization law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2020

However, the first licenses for Illinois growers, processors and dispensaries wouldn't be issued until about six months later in May and July of 2020.

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