Illinois Set to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

UPDATE: On June 25, 2019, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the recreational marijuana legislation. The law takes effect January 1, 2020.

June 14, 2019

Illinois is set to become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana after both houses of the state legislature voted in favor of legalization. Gov. J.B. Pritzker is a legalization supporter, and has said he will sign the measure, which would be effective January 1, 2020.

The new law will consider marijuana to be a "lawful product" under the Illinois Right to Privacy Act, which bars discrimination against job applicants and employees for their off-duty use of lawful products.

It also includes a provision to help expunge marijuana offenses for persons convicted of small possession transgressions, so long as they were not associated with violence. According to the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, about 770,000 Illinois residents may qualify to get their records cleared of low-level marijuana possession offenses as a result.

From an employment law standpoint, there are some safeguards for businesses. For instance, the measure makes clear that employers are free to maintain zero-tolerance workplace drug policies. Thus, an employer may still discipline or terminate employees who appear impaired by marijuana at work.

The measure will insulate employers from liability for subjecting an applicant or employee to drug and alcohol testing where the employer had a good-faith belief that an employee used marijuana at work while performing job duties, or while on call in violation of its workplace policies. It also will not apply to employers that are subject to the US Department of Transportation's drug and alcohol testing regulations.

Once Gov. Pritzker signs the recreational marijuana law, Illinois will join Vermont as the only states to legalize the drug's recreational use through the legislative process. Nine other states voted through ballot initiatives to legalize some degree of marijuana use, including:

  • Alaska;
  • California;
  • Colorado;
  • Maine;
  • Massachusetts;
  • Michigan;
  • Nevada;
  • Oregon; and
  • Washington.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, including Illinois.