History of Marijuana Laws in Illinois
Marijuana use was technically legal in Illinois for over 100 years, from the beginning of Illinois statehood in 1818 until Illinois outlawed recreational use of marijuana in 1931. This was six years before the national Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Recreational use wasn’t common until the mid to late 1910s. At this time increasing numbers of Mexican immigrants introduced the recreational smoking of marijuana. Anti Mexican immigrant sentiments were high.
Marijuana became a boogeyman during the Great Depression, as the public searched for a reason for the high unemployment. Because of skewed experiments and massive propaganda campaigns, states began outlawing Marijuana en masse even before the national law.
Pivoting from Users to Traffickers
Illinois began to edit their marijuana laws in the late 1970s, following extremely strict federal sentencing laws put in place in the 50s. The Cannabis Control Act of 1978 was aimed at reducing harsh penalties because of widespread marijuana use within Illinois. The state wanted to refocus policing on those trafficking and distributing, not users. Technically marijuana became legal for medical use with this bill. The Department of Human Services had the ability to provide physicians with licenses to treat specific ailments with marijuana. While legal, the Department of State Police never gave written approval to the Department of Human Services and the Department of Human services never gave licenses to physicians.
Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Successful
Medical marijuana became truly legal in 2013, when Governor Pat Quin signed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act (MCPP). This was following a 35 to 21 approval vote from the Illinois Senate. The law is cautious but removes the police involvement in the approval process. In late 2019, the program was upgraded, dropping it’s
‘pilot’ title. The Medical Cannabis Program has been highly successful, serving over 100,000 patients in Illinois through 57 licensed dispensaries.
Legalization and Criminal Justice Reform
Public sentiment has shifted widely in the last thirty years. Marijuana use is no longer vilified and its benefits for those suffering from a wide variety of ailments, including MS, anxiety, and depression, are better understood by science. Illinois has continued to improve upon its marijuana laws since 2013. In 2016, Illinois adjusted possession under 10g from a misdemeanor to minor fine. While Colorado, Washington and eight other states had already legalized recreational marijuana use through voter initiatives, Illinois became the first state to legalize the sale and possession of marijuana for recreational use through legislation. This was necessary, because the Illinois State Constitution doesn’t allow a voter initiative process.
The historic bill, the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, was passed May 31st, 2019. Illinois lawmakers also attempted to remedy some of the incredible damage of harsh marijuana laws of the past. Illinois will begin expunging criminal records for marijuana convictions and hopes to finish by 2025. Illinois has given preference dispensary applications from and in communities plagued by marijuana convictions. This is designed to reinvest the revenue from marijuana sales back into these communities.
ILNORML continues to work for reform of the cannabis laws harming consumers and our society.