State lawmakers address cannabis licensing, Asian American history, free menstrual hygiene products

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Marijuana grown at the Cresco Labs in Joliet Illinois.
Marijuana grown at the Cresco Labs in Joliet Illinois. | Annie Costabile/Sun-Times file

Under the House bill aimed at fixing the state’s troubled cannabis licensing system, 110 new licenses would be awarded through two lotteries “targeted toward Black, Hispanic and other minority residents of disproportionately impacted areas.”

SPRINGFIELD — The state’s cannabis industry could soon expand and see its licensing system corrected.

Illinois schools could also soon be required to teach students about Asian American history. And public universities and community colleges would be required to make menstrual hygiene products available at no cost to students.

Those are some of the bills that passed the House or Senate on Tuesday less than a week before the legislative session is slated to end.

Under the House bill aimed at fixing the state’s troubled cannabis licensing system, 110 new licenses would be awarded through two lotteries “targeted toward Black, Hispanic and other minority residents of disproportionately impacted areas,” according to a news release announcing the House passage of the bill.

One of the lotteries would give priority to people with past arrests or convictions for cannabis-related offenses as part of the qualifying criteria.

The new licenses would be in addition to the 75 licenses that were supposed to be released in 2020. That batch of licenses was delayed due to litigation and complaints surrounding the selection process’ scoring system.

“Like the War on Drugs, the rollout of cannabis licenses has disproportionately impacted communities of color,” state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, said in a statement after the bill passed the House.

“We now have an opportunity to correct the missteps of the original lottery process. … Instead of allowing the wealthy few to maintain control of this new industry, let’s give people in areas that have been left behind a real opportunity to start a local business that is owned and operated by members of the community.”

State Rep. La Shawn Ford meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in 2018.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file
State Rep. La Shawn Ford meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in 2018.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker thanked Ford and the other co-sponsors of the bill for “seeing this legislation through the House.”

“As a state that values making our laws reflective of our diverse communities, we must ensure that social justice is at the center of everything we do — and today, that means building upon our work of passing the most equity-centric cannabis law in the nation,” the governor said in a written statement.

“By authorizing additional lotteries that are focused on social equity applicants, we’re ensuring that communities that have been left out and left behind have new opportunities to access the cannabis industry.”

The bill passed 70 to 33 with 15 members not voting and now heads to the state Senate.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs legislation to make Illinois the nation’s 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2019.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs legislation to make Illinois the nation’s 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2019.

In the state Senate, legislators debated requiring menstrual products be provided in public universities and community colleges.

State Sen. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago, encouraged members to vote yes because “period poverty is real, and this bill will be helpful to our students.”

“Students should not be forced to miss class or arrive late due to lack of access to proper menstrual hygiene products,” the West Chicago Democrat said. “Every student has access to essentials like hand soap and toilet paper — menstrual products shouldn’t be any different.”

Then state Rep. Karina Villa in 2018.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file
Then state Rep. Karina Villa in 2018.

State Sen. Jil Tracy said the requirement would place an undue financial burden on public universities, saying that Southern Illinois University had previously recalled a similar policy because “very much more [menstrual products] were taken than needed.”

“We have to stop creating a culture that says ‘everything is free, so let’s just take it,’” said the Quincy Republican. “The fact is our universities have been hurting because of lack of funding from our state. … We hide behind things like feminine hygiene. Yes, I’m a woman, I’ve been through all that, and I know it’s as necessary as toilet paper. But at some point, we have to ask where this money is coming from.”

Villa responded that she believed college students would “determine if this was a need” and that determination “would not be considered stealing.”

The Senate passed the House bill, 42 to 13, sending it to Pritzker’s desk. The Senate also passed a similar bill requiring menstrual products in homeless shelters.

Following a spike in violence against Asian Americans, a bill requiring Illinois schools to teach students about Asian American history also passed the Senate.

State Sen. Ram Villivalam.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file
State Sen. Ram Villivalam.

Starting with the 2022-2023 school year, the proposed unit of education would include the history of Asian Americans in Illinois and the Midwest, the internment of Japanese Americans and the military service of Asian Americans throughout American history.

“Without this [unit], schools erase the legacies and contribution of Asian Americans throughout our history, leading to a less complete understanding of U.S. history as a whole,” said the sponsor Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago.

The bill passed the state Senate unanimously and also heads to the governor’s desk.

Andrew Sullender reported from Springfield, Rachel Hinton from Chicago.

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May 25, 2021 at 09:04PM

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