Illinois legislators seem poised to approve marijuana legalization by the end of the day tomorrow, when the current legislative session ends, while New York legislators have revived the effort to allow recreational use there. Both bills would legalize possession by adults 21 or older and authorize the licensing and regulation of cannabis suppliers. Both also include expungement provisions for people convicted of marijuana offenses. Here are the highlights.
The Illinois bill, which the state Senate approved yesterday, allows adults 21 or older to possess up to 30 grams (a bit more than an ounce) of marijuana. The New York bill, which was re-introduced last Friday, sets a limit of three ounces.
The Illinois bill has been amended to allow home cultivation (up to five plants) only for medical use by qualifying patients. The New York bill would allow any adult 21 or older to grow up to six plants and keep the marijuana they produce at home (even if it exceeds three ounces).
Retail sales could begin as soon as January 1, 2020, under the Illinois bill. The licensing provisions of the New York bill would take effect when the law is enacted, but it's not clear how soon retail sales would start.
The Illinois bill imposes a 10 percent retail sales tax on marijuana with a THC concentration of 35 percent or less, a 25 percent tax on more potent marijuana, and a 20 percent tax on cannabis-infused products. That's in addition to standard state and local sales taxes (6.25 percent and up to 4.5 percent, respectively). The taxes paid by consumers would range from about 17 percent to about 36 percent, depending on the product and the locality.
The New York bill would impose a cultivation tax of $1 per gram on marijuana flower, a 20 percent tax on sales by wholesalers or by retailers who obtain marijuana directly from producers, and another 2 percent on such sales, the revenue from which would be allocated to the county where the sale occurs. Again, that's in addition to standard state and local sales taxes, which in New York City total nearly 9 percent, resulting in a total tax rate of 31 percent there, not including the cultivation tax.
The Illinois bill would allow on-site consumption in businesses that sell cannabis, subject to approval by local governments. Under the New York bill, cannabis retailers could obtain state licenses to allow on-site consumption.
Under the Illinois bill, people convicted of marijuana offenses involving 30 grams or less would receive pardons from the governor authorizing expungement of their records. People convicted of offenses involving 30 to 500 grams would have to petition a court for expungement.
Under the New York bill, the convictions of people serving sentences for marijuana-related conduct that is no longer criminal would be automatically vacated and expunged. People serving sentences for marijuana offenses that have been downgraded would be eligible for resentencing. Marijuana offenders who have completed their sentences could petition to have their records reclassified (if the offense has been downgraded) or expunged (if the offense is no longer criminal).
Illinois already has a "per se" law that makes a cannabis consumer guilty of driving under the influence if his THC blood concentration is five nanograms or more per milliliter, regardless of whether he is actually impaired. The legalization bill does not change that unscientific and unjust standard. New York's bill likewise does not change that state's marijuana DUI law, which requires evidence of impairment beyond THC in the blood.
Update, May 31: Today the Illinois House of Representatives approved the legalization bill, which now heads to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has promised to sign it. Illinois is the first state to legalize the commercial production and distribution of marijuana for recreational use via the legislature.