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Illinois Lawmakers Attempt High-Wire Act With Cannabis Legalization

It is possible that sales may begin through dispensaries by January 1, 2020

Illinois is trying to do something no other state has accomplished, legalizing recreational marijuana by statute instead of coming up with a program on the fly after a ballot initiative. 

That’s one of many reasons it’s taking so long. Legislators, led by Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy, have been working on the bill for months, with the effort intensifying over the past several weeks. “No state has gone to tax-and-regulate by legislation versus ballot referendum,” Cassidy, who started laying the groundwork for the bill with Steans more than two years ago, said recently. “That’s why it’s taken more time than other bigger bills.” 

The long-awaited recreational cannabis legislation is expected to be filed by Steans on Monday in the Senate, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker hopes to pass it this session, along with a graduated income tax and perhaps sports betting, which will make an already heavy lift all the more challenging. The bill, outlined Saturday, covers the mechanics of licensing, distribution and taxation, as well as some thorny criminal and social-justice matters that are crucial to lining up support. 


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