Marijuana has been in the decriminalization process since 1973 with many states over the years passing laws to either authorize the use of marijuana or prohibit it. It is time to stop treating marijuana like a deadly drug, when science and public opinion agree that it is relatively safe for adult recreational and medical use. With recreational and medical marijuana on the verge of nationwide legalization, marijuana growers and dispensaries and grow facilities popping up everywhere.

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As of Jan. 1, 2020, marijuana will legally be available in Illinois for recreational use.

One of the key movers behind the push to legalize recreational weed has been state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Park Forest) who lives in south suburban Olympia Fields.

Now Hutchinson has been tapped by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to take on a new, $220,000-a-year role as the state’s cannabis regulation oversight officer – or, as most headlines put it: “cannabis czar.”

Appointed to the Senate in 2009, Hutchinson has long pushed for legalization and to include so-called social equity goals in the legislation, including ensuring that people with low-level marijuana convictions have their records expunged and that minority-owned businesses get their share of the legal marijuana trade.

When the new law takes effect, residents of Illinois will be permitted to possess up to 30 grams of the cannabis plant, 5 grams of concentrated cannabis and no more than 500 milligrams of THC in a cannabis-infused product. (THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis.)

Visitors to the state will be permitted to possess half the amount of cannabis allowed for Illinois residents.

The possession limits are cumulative.

“I’ve always said that equity should be the cornerstone of this new industry and I’m going to work every single day to ensure that those who have been disproportionately impacted by drug policies have the opportunity to start businesses and thrive here in Illinois,” Hutchinson said in a statement after Pritzker announced her appointment late last month.

Aside from ensuring a smooth rollout of the new law, Hutchinson will also quickly have to address the issue of vaping as it relates to cannabis products.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stepped up its warnings about vaping-related lung disease. As of Thursday, the CDC said that there have been 18 vaping-related deaths and 1,080 vaping-related hospitalizations for severe breathing illnesses – including more than 100 in Illinois. The majority of those patients reported using products containing THC.

“This is absolutely an issue of grave concern,” Hutchinson told the Chicago Tribune. “Anytime you look at something that’s happened this suddenly and this unexpectedly and where people can’t pin down what the source is, we have to be involved, we have to be at the forefront, we have to make sure public health is the No. 1 priority.”

Hutchinson joins “Chicago Tonight” to discuss her new role.

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