What the legalization bill means for patients in Illinois

Last week, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize cannabis for both medical and non-medical purposes. This move by Illinois is significant because it is the first state to legalize the adult use of cannabis through the legislature, rather than through a citizen initiative. By moving a legalization bill through its legislature, it is possible that Illinois will serve as a model for other states that are considering legalization, but may not wish to put the question before voters or may lack an initiative process. The bill takes effect January 1, 2020.

While the legalization bill in Illinois covers issues from criminal justice reform to the creation of new sets of licenses, it is also expansive (the final text of the bill runs more than 600 pages) and includes several new provisions for medical cannabis. Here a few things patients should know:

  1. Patients in Illinois are now allowed to home-cultivate up to five plants. Home cultivation was not previously permitted and this exemption is only for those with cards.
  2. Unfortunately, the bill allows employers to set zero-tolerance policies at the workplace.
  3. Taxes on non-medical cannabis will range from 10-25% depending on THC level, but medical cannabis will taxed at the much lower rate of 1%, which is comparable to other pharmaceuticals in the state.
  4. Medical cannabis will not be subject to the same potency limits as non-medical cannabis.
  5. Businesses that currently hold medical licenses will have first claim to licenses in the non-medical market, but dispensaries and cultivators that get one of these licenses must show that they have sufficient medicine set aside for patients.
  6. Possession limits for non-patients (21 years and older) are now 30 grams of flower, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate, or 500 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product. Non-residents will be able to possess up to 15 grams of flower, 2.5 grams of cannabis concentrate, and 250 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis infused product. Patients may continue to possess cannabis in excess of the adult-use amounts consistent with their two-week supply.
  7. The state is partnering with community colleges to create cannabis vocational training classes.
  8. The bill requires the automatic expungement of previous offenses for possession of 30 grams or less. The law also allows those with previous offenses of possessing between 30 and 500 grams to petition the court for expungement, a policy that could impact up to 770,000 individuals.
  9. The bill creates a social equity program and a $30 million loan fund to help minority business owners to enter the cannabis industry and establishes a grant program that helps communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

Americans for Safe Access traditionally remains neutral on legalization proposals, but as more states move forward towards adult-use frameworks, it is important for us to keep up-to-date with developments that could substantially impact patients. This bill has several important accommodations and changes for medical cannabis patients that have the potential to improve the medical cannabis program rather than hinder it, and we hope that other states will continue to recognize the importance of a strong medical program as they legalize cannabis for non-medical use.