Illinois started the new year on a high note Wednesday, becoming the latest U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana as the governor pardoned thousands for past low-level cannabis convictions.
The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act will allow residents 21 and older to legally purchase marijuana and will expunge thousands of individuals’ criminal convictions throughout the state.
“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,” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said in a statement.
On Tuesday night, Pritzker granted 11,017 pardons for people with low-level cannabis convictions, the first round of a planned total of more than 700,000.
According to the statement, the new law will use 25 percent of the state’s cannabis revenue to help “the communities hit hardest” by the earlier crackdown on marijuana.
“Today we took another step toward justice, as we continue to address the failed war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on communities of color,” Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx said in the statement.
Illinois residents age 21 and older will now be allowed to legally possess 30 grams of cannabis, five grams of cannabis concentrate or 500 milligrams of THC — the main active ingredient of cannabis — contained in a cannabis-infused product.
Non-residents are allowed to carry 15 grams of cannabis under the bill, which will also create a licensed growing and dispensary system.
Illinois is the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana, along with Washington, D.C. Thirty-four states and the federal capital permit medical cannabis treatment.
But the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration still considers marijuana a dangerous substance alongside LSD and heroin.
A study by the federal Centers for Disease Control published in August found that states that legalize recreational marijuana see a reduction of at least 20 percent in fatalities linked to opioid overdoses.
Marijuana legalization has also been shown to improve a state’s economic activity, creating jobs and bringing in new tax revenue. (VOA)