US state of Illinois nears pot legalization

Chicago (AFP) –


The US state of Illinois on Friday moved closer to legalizing marijuana for recreational use -- the first case in which US state lawmakers led the change.

In a bipartisan vote of 66-47, the lower House in the state capital Springfield approved the measure which, once signed by the governor, would make Illinois the first US state to start a recreational pot industry via the legislature rather than through initiatives approved by voters.

"This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance," Governor J.B. Pritzker said in his statement.

Pritzker, a Democrat, campaigned on marijuana legalization and was due to sign the legislation that would take effect January 1.

Illinois residents age 21 and older would be allowed to legally possess 30 grams of cannabis, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate or 500 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product.

Non-residents are allowed to carry 15 grams of cannabis under the bill.

It would also create a licensed growing and dispensary system, and would direct Pritzker to pardon people with past low-level marijuana convictions.

There are concerns legalization could increase the number of minors using pot, and the number of people driving while under the influence.

"If this bill passes, a giant, big-money industry will commercialize another harmful, addictive drug in our state," said Representative Marty Moylan, a Democrat from the Chicago suburb Des Plaines.

At the moment, ten US states plus Washington DC allow recreational marijuana use: Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state, Michigan, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine.

Medical cannabis treatment is also legal in 33 of the 50 US states as well as the capital Washington.

But Drug Enforcement Administration still considers marijuana a dangerous substance alongside LSD and heroin.

In January 2018, the administration of President Donald Trump canceled five directives issued by former president Barack Obama's government, under which federal authorities refrained from prosecuting cannabis buyers or retailers.

Cannabis professionals in states where it is legal have no access to the banking system and are likely to be prosecuted by tax authorities.

Current federal laws curb a burgeoning industry which generates billions of dollars in revenue and employs more than 200,000 people, according to NORML, the main pro-legalization lobby.