Recreational Marijuana Use Approved in Illinois, Criminal Records to Be Expunged

There are two reasons to rejoice over Illinois’ new marijuana legislation. Weed has been approved for recreational use, and the law is the first in the nation to contain sweeping expungement provisions from the onset. That sets the tone for major criminal justice reform needed by Black communities in the state disproportionately targeted by marijuana arrests.

Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday signed into law the legal use of cannabis for recreational purposes by adults. That makes Illinois the 11th one in the country to approve smoking or consuming weed for fun in a history-making feat.

Recreational weed use will be legal in Illinois by January 2020. (Getty Images)

“As the first state in the nation to fully legalize adult-use cannabis through the legislative process, Illinois exemplifies the best in democracy,” Pritzker said June 25 when he signed the measure into law. “A bipartisan and deep commitment to benefit the lives of all of our people.”

He added making weed legal “brings and important and overdue change to our state. And, its the right thing to do.”

The measure means that those who require marijuana for state-approved and registered medical use can immediately begin consumption. However, adults 21 and over who seek to light up must wait until January 1, according to WTTW.

Under the law, Illinois residents will be able to possess 30 grams of cannabis flower. Nonresidents, like tourists, can possess 15 grams, and medical marijuana patients with certain conditions may have more than those amounts.

But it’s about more than consuming pot for fun.

A 2013 report from the American Civil Liberties Union found that while Illinois’ population is composed of 15 percent Black people, Black residents represent 58 percent of the state’s arrests for pot possession.

Legalizing weed in Illinois means a massive records expungement for people who have been arrested for possessing the drug — many who were disproportionately targeted. USA Today reports that the up to 34.74 percent taxes imposed on cannabis products would finance the expungement of about 770,000 low-level marijuana convictions.

“This is about repairing harm. Harm that’s been done to communities for the last 40 years as part of the failed war on drugs,” said Democratic state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth on Tuesday. “And 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.”

As part of the new legislation, priority will be given to Black and Latino people who are looking to obtain business licenses.

Back to top