By Bill Hutchinson

The governor of Illinois is poised to sign a bill legalizing the recreational use of marijuana there -- making it the first state to do so through its legislature and the 11th overall to legalize pot.

The bill -- which permits marijuana possession and may clear the way for hundreds of thousands of criminal cases to be purged -- was sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker's desk Friday after the state House of Representatives approved it with a 66-47 vote, the first time a state legislature in the United States has taken such action.

Ten previous states approved recreational use of marijuana through ballot initiatives.

Pritzker, a Democrat billionaire businessman who was elected governor in November 2018, has said he plans to sign the bill, which he estimates will garner the state $170 million in the first year alone. But it remained unclear Monday when he will put his signature on the legislation.

“The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation,” Pritzker, who ran on a pledge to legalize cannabis, wrote on his Facebook page. “This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance."

An equity-centric approach is designed to mitigate the effects that criminal laws have had on minorities and level the playing field for getting into the industry.

The legislation, House Bill 1438, will also allow residents of Illinois convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana to petition to have their records expunged if the offense was not associated with a violent crime. Some 770,000 Illinois residents could qualify to get their records cleared of low-level marijuana crimes, according to the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council.

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