Illinois House Democrats Form Cannabis Working Group To Steer Industry Growth With Equity Goals In Mind

by Hazey Taughtme

Illinois House Democrats announced the formation of a cannabis working group on Thursday, led by Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, to steer the burgeoning industry’s growth with a business-friendly approach while fulfilling equity goals set forth by the state’s landmark 2019 legalization law. This article will discuss the group’s priorities and goals, its impact on the industry, and the different organizations that are involved in the cannabis advocacy movement in Illinois.

Priorities and Goals

The working group’s main priority, according to Ford, is to ensure the success of individuals who have invested in the newly-created industry. This includes addressing the disproportionate impact of the war on drugs on communities of color, particularly when it comes to cannabis-related arrests. Before Illinois decriminalized cannabis in 2016, Black people were 7.5 times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis-related offenses, according to the ACLU.

The recreational cannabis law, which also made individuals previously charged with minor cannabis offenses eligible to have their records expunged, has expunged 492,129 cannabis-related convictions and pardoned 9,219 low-level cannabis convictions. The law was also designed to give “social equity” applicants, whose ownership consists of minorities, people with drug convictions, or individuals from disproportionately impacted areas, easier access to new dispensary licenses.

The working group will comb through the 30-plus cannabis-related bills that have already been filed in the current General Assembly, which began in January. These bills address areas such as licensing, distribution of cannabis tax revenue, and the expungement of past offenses. The group aims to effectively address the industry’s most pertinent issues.

Impact on the Industry

Illinois recorded a record-high $1.5 billion of recreational cannabis sales in Fiscal Year 2022, generating about $445 million in tax revenue. Under the law, 25% of the taxes collected from recreational cannabis sales are to go to economically distressed communities or those impacted by the war on drugs. In Fiscal Year 2022, about $115 million in tax revenue went to the state’s General Revenue Fund.

Aside from an equity focus, Ford said the working group will also aim to make state policy more accommodating to the industry from a business perspective. The group will work with other lawmakers, state agencies, businesses, and associations that work directly with the cannabis industry to achieve its goals.

Organizations Involved

The Cannabis Business Association of Illinois is a statewide trade association for cannabis businesses that is involved in the working group. Its legislative priorities include re-implementing curbside pickup and drive-thru services, decoupling Illinois’ cannabis tax code from the federal tax code, and extending the right to work in the medical cannabis industry for those who have previous cannabis-related convictions.

The Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition, a grassroots nonprofit that advocates for cannabis-related reform, has its own priorities for the legislative session, including expanding support for the craft grow industry, creating a singular cannabis oversight commission to streamline cannabis programs, and creating licenses for clubs and lounges so people other than homeowners are able to legally consume cannabis. Evans and Ford have both introduced bills to create a cannabis oversight commission.

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