As partiers around the world battled their first hangover of the year, citizens of Illinois battled long line-ups for their first chance to buy state-sanctioned recreational weed.
On Jan. 1, Illinois, a Midwest state with a long history of drug trade and tensions with law enforcement, became the 11th in the U.S. to legalize cannabis.
The day before, Governor Jay Pritzker granted 11,017 pardons for “low-level marijuana convictions,” part of an initiative the politician said sets his apart from other legal states by putting equity first.
“We’re addressing the past harms of discriminatory prosecution of drug laws,” Pritzker said at a press conference Tuesday. “We’re restoring the rights of Illinoians who were denied jobs, and housing and child custody and financial aid for school.”
“The war on cannabis has destroyed families. It has filled jails and prisons with nonviolent offenders. It has disproportionately affected black and brown communities,” he said.
On Aug. 1, 2019, Canada’s federal Justice Minister announced citizens with convictions for simple possession could apply for a free pardon, but by Dec. 1, statistics from Public Safety Canada showed only 118 people had their records cleared. Only 234 had applied.
Prime Minister Trudeau’s promised mechanism to erase criminal records for cannabis convictions has been criticized for being overly restrictive. The pardon process only applies to people with a single possession offence, and the government estimated about 10,000 people are eligible.
In March, Minister Blair claimed 70,000-80,000 Cdns eligible for pot pardons.
In June, top govt officials said 10,000.
Reality = 118! https://t.co/j62JkFhbao
I called this months ago. WATCH me question at #SenCA Legal Ctte: ⬇️⬇️ #LiberalElectionMath https://t.co/8zOBOxRg8p
— Sen. Denise Batters (@denisebatters) December 2, 2019
Illinois’s new cannabis legislation includes provisions to directly address prevailing social inequities caused by enforcement.
At a Chicago city council meeting in December, councillors noted that none of its licensed dispensaries were owned by women or people of colour.
To address this disparity, the state is offering incentives for prospective cannabis entrepreneurs who have been affected by previous cannabis convictions, to themselves or to family members, or who have lived in areas disproportionately affected by enforcement.
The incentives include technical assistance, reduced application fees and access to low-interest loans.
“The State of Illinois is committed to ensuring that communities historically impacted by the criminalization of cannabis have an opportunity to participate in the legal cannabis industry,” a statement on the government website reads.
Meanwhile, there have been multiple reports of customers waiting for hours to purchase their first legal bud.
And the battle doesn’t stop there. Some have noted the heavy taxes put on edibles and high-THC products.
yikes :/ pic.twitter.com/V687xB7DIx
— CannaWorld (@cannaworldsite) January 2, 2020
Customers are paying a 10 per cent sales tax on cannabis flower under 35 per cent THC. Edibles are taxed at 20 per cent.
And the real doozy: all products with a THC concentration of 35 per cent or above come with a 25 per cent tax.
State law also places a 7 per cent gross receipts tax on sales from producers to retailers.
Photo of the Chicago River dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day by Mike Boehmer via Wikimedia Commons.