Things New Zealand Can Learn From Illinois Cannabis Legalisation

Illinois has just become the 11th state to allow recreational marijuana use

In Chicago, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law the first bill to legalise the sale and possession of cannabis. He also ensured that minority communities have the equal economic and social justice opportunities that cannabis legalisation presents.

The Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act is expected to become a $2 billion industry. This will establish Illinois’s cannabis sector as second largest after California’s. In addition to this, the bill will form 770,000 cannabis-related records eligible to create thousands of new job opportunities.

Medical cannabis sales Illinois 2018. Source

There are many things New Zealand can learn from Illinois’s decision to legalise cannabis in the country.



Economic justice advancement

Kelly Cassidy, State Representative of Illinois, is one of the state’s leading legislation architects. He likened the social justice factors involved in the bill to restoration, reinvestment, and inclusion.

Accordingly, the law lays out an all-inclusive program to empower, employ, and equip minority communities with all the required tools. Using these tools, they will be able to enter and make a profit in the marketplace in Illinois. It is essential to eliminate misdemeanors associated with minor possession of cannabis.

However, at the same time, it is even more important to ensure that Illinois cannabis businesses are not solely owned by members of a single race, which happens with 73 percent of cannabis businesses.

In light of this, Illinois’s law offers several solid programs to constitute a comprehensive economic justice. These components include addressing the high cost associated with entering the cannabis market, complex license application process, establishing cannabis job-training programs, dedicated money to cannabis abuse and mental health care programs, to name a few.

Three months before the failure of legalising recreational cannabis in New York, many minority communities questioned whether the legislation of cannabis advanced their interests.



A two-way conversation

Instrumental town hall meetings held across Illinois shaped the language of the bill and galvanised the supporting base. State Senator Heather Steans, along with Kelly Cassidy and several others key representatives, leveraged the town hall meetings as opportunities for outlining recreational cannabis laws for their constituents. They also invited them to help shape the language of the cannabis law for the state.

Through the town halls, Cassidy made efforts to demonstrate that she intended not only to form a strong cannabis marketplace in the state. She also illustrated that the best way to create and grow the marketplace would be through a solid consensus across the community.

Governor Pritzker made efforts to invite various interests to play a major role in drafting the final law. These attempts can make a huge difference between failure and success in terms of the ambition of the policy and the number of voices who crafted it.



The need for governmental gusto

Making significant cannabis reform demands a legislative process that considers all aspects of the effects on the community. The lawmakers should have political clout and must be able to lead the blocking and tackling persuasion involved in the process in order to win over the different stakeholders.

Governor Pritzker played this role in legalising recreational cannabis in Illinois. He expended the political capital that is required for seeing the bill come to fruition. New York chose Governor Andrew Cuomo, who once referred to cannabis “a gateway drug”, and their bill failed.

Cannabis legislative efforts not only require the position and tactics of a state’s chief executive. In fact, according to the Times Union, Governor Cuomo failed to utilise many important tactics he previously used for supporting other legislative goals. These tactics include hosting rallies in major districts, press conferences with celebrities, and inviting opponents to participate in the sessions of full-court press negotiations.

Illinois followed the right approach to legalise recreational cannabis statewide. The law acknowledged the inequality prevalent in the sector and the injustice associated with cannabis-related convictions. The lawmakers in the state also implemented concrete plans to ensure that Illinois’s legal cannabis industry becomes beneficial for everyone involved.

The law’s legislative geniuses listened to the public, discussed the social and economic benefits of the cannabis law, and involved different stakeholder groups in the process. Hopefully, other states will follow this to plot their policy.



Repeating success in New Zealand

Changing cannabis legislation is not as simple as re-drafting the laws. The first step needs to be a concerted effort to influence public perception of the drug. Penalties for marijuana use and distribution have devastated communities, and consideration of these groups needs to happen while planning laws.

Legal marijuana is a massive industry, and when initiating the process of legalisation it is important to consider which groups can access licenses and how to distribute them fairly so one group does not end up with the lion’s share of the profits while others miss out.

Illinois successfully implemented these steps, and with the right governmental support and input from the community, the legislation passed. If New Zealand wants to successfully see marijuana laws changed and implemented in a way that presents the maximum benefit to the community, they should consider the path that Illinois have taken and attempt to recreate it for themselves.