• Editorial
  • Illinois' legal-pot rollout is off to a promising start

    It isn't often we get to say that Illinois government has done something more or less right.

    AP

    Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a Dec. 11 news conference after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, second from right, announced the first batch of court filings to vacate low-level marijuana convictions. Former state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, far right, is now adviser to Pritzker on recreational pot.

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    79彩票注册网址It isn't often we get to say that Illinois government has done something more or less right, but the state's marijuana legalization rollout this month offers a rare opportunity to strike a cautiously optimistic note.

    Of course, the new law has drawn its share of criticism, most notably from members of the Chicago City Council's Black Caucus, who mounted an eleventh-hour push just before the holidays to delay the Jan. 1 legalization debut. Their goal—worthy if ill-timed—was to place more pot retail licenses in the hands of people of color. But thoughtful provisions written into the law already address some of the inequities the Black Caucus sought to reverse. The new law gives residents of minority neighborhoods the chance to share in the economic benefit of legal marijuana sales by granting them bonus points on applications for retail licenses. Those applications are being scored according to "social equity" criteria that include having lived in poor communities affected by the so-called war on drugs, a decades-long law enforcement push that hit minorities hard.

    Another key step toward social equity written into the law: the expungement of criminal records for low-level marijuana convictions.

    Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Dec. 31 granted more than 11,000 pardons, the first wave of thousands of such expungements that are called for in Illinois' marijuana law, an aspect of the legislation that hopefully will become a model for other states.

    By clearing the misdemeanor offenses from people's records, it will be easier for thousands of them to get jobs, housing and financial aid for their educations. And more pardons are to come. The state estimates 116,000 convictions involving 30 grams or less of marijuana are eligible to be cleared under the new law.

    "We are ending the 50-year-long war on cannabis," Pritzker said in a statement announcing the pardons. "We are restoring rights to many tens of thousands of Illinoisans. We are bringing regulation and safety to a previously unsafe and illegal market. And we are creating a new industry that puts equity at its very core."

    Aside from the benefit to government coffers—the state of Illinois gets about 30 percent of the take in tax revenue, while municipalities get an extra 3 percent—there's another upside: Demand has been strong, and Illinois has created enough retail licenses to take advantage of it. On Jan. 1, the first day of legalized sales, there were more than 77,000 purchases of marijuana-related products, according to state estimates. Those transactions totaled about $3.2 million in sales. Illinois' revenue total on the first day was roughly double the entire first week of legalized marijuana sales in Michigan. But Michigan had only about a half-dozen stores open when it began recreational sales. Illinois had more than 40 dispensaries licensed to sell recreational marijuana, including 10 in the city of Chicago.

    79彩票注册网址And by comparison, Illinois' first-day total was roughly equal to what Nevada recorded in its first four days of recreational sales in 2017.

    Toi Hutchinson, Pritzker's marijuana-legalization czar, summed up the years-long effort to craft a socially responsible policy this way in a recent interview with Crain's79彩票注册网址: "Success isn't a day or a month. This is a journey. I know there are going to be hiccups along the way, and I know it's big, and I know it's complicated. This is the first time we've ever attempted anything like this. But we have to try."

    So far, the first steps on that journey seem to be going well—and it's worth noting it was no accident.

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