The Illinois Senate has approved legislation that would prevent the smell of marijuana from being used as probable cause to search a vehicle or its passengers.
The Senate voted 33–20 on Thursday to pass the bill, SB 125. It’s now set to be considered by the state’s House of Representatives.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rachel Ventura (D), said in a statement issued by Senate Democrats that the proposal would protect Illiniosians’ rights against unreasonable searches.
“People—especially people of color—are unnecessarily pulled over far too often,” Ventura said. “The odor of cannabis alone shouldn’t be one of those reasons. Cannabis is legal in Illinois and it’s a pungent scent that can stick to clothes for extended periods of time.”
— IL Senate Democrats (@ILSenDems) March 31, 2023
The release from Senate Democrats notes the bill was a response to a Will County court case in which a defendant was pulled over and arrested after the officer detected “a strong odor of burnt cannabis emanating from the vehicle.” The defendant said someone had smoked cannabis in the care “a long time ago.”
The bill would not change the state’s laws around impaired driving. Operating a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana would remain illegal.
A striking amendment from Ventura that was approved on the Senate floor Thursday replaced the bill’s language as it was originally introduced in January.
As passed by the body, the bill says that “if a motor vehicle is driven or occupied by an individual 21 years of age or over, the odor of burnt or raw cannabis in a motor vehicle by itself shall not constitute probable cause for the search of the motor vehicle, vehicle operator, or passengers in the vehicle.”
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It also does away with a requirement in current law that cannabis in vehicles be stored in “odor-proof” containers.
Illinois’s marijuana market has taken off since launching in 2020. Last year the state recorded more than $1.5 billion in adult-use cannabis sales, and the state collected $445.3 million in tax revenue during Fiscal Year 2022—a 50 percent increase from the year before.
But there’s still work to be done, officials have conceded. In September, state regulators released a report that revealed a glaring lack of diversity among business owners in the adult-use marijuana sector. It outlined a plan to begin turning that around in the current fiscal year, with the industry set to significantly expand as nearly 200 new social equity businesses come online.
The governor and other state officials have emphasized that they’re committed to ensuring that portions of tax revenue from the marijuana market go toward community reinvestment, as prescribed under the state’s legalization law. Officials announced last year that the state was awarding $45 million in grants funded by marijuana tax dollars to support community reinvestment in areas “hardest hit by the failed war on drugs.”
That marked the second round of funding that’s been made available through the state’s Restore, Reinvest, and Renew (R3) program, which was established under Illinois’s adult-use cannabis legalization law. In 2021, state officials also put $3.5 million in cannabis-generated funds toward efforts to reduce violence through street intervention programs.
In addition to providing community reinvestment funding, the governor announced in 2020 that his office had processed more than 500,000 expungements and pardons for people with low-level cannabis convictions on their records.
Pritzker also signed legislation last year that will make it so courts cannot deny petitions to expunge or seal records based on a positive drug test for marijuana.
A state-funded initiative was also established to help residents with marijuana convictions get legal aid and other services to have their records expunged.
In February of this year, a group of House Democrats announced the formation of a cannabis working group that will promote the industry’s expansion while still satisfying the equity goals of the state’s 2019 legalization law.
“If we could empower the businesses, it’s going to mean more revenue, and we’re going to realize what we intended for the law to do,” said the group’s leader, Rep. La Shawn Ford (D). “And that is increase employment, develop communities, reduce crime in the state.”
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