By Karen Pierog
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois on Tuesday became the 11th U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults after Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill that also provides for the removal of certain previous drug convictions and will generate new revenue for the financially troubled state.
The Democratic governor hailed the measure, which was passed by the legislature last month, for allowing as many as 700,000 marijuana-related records and convictions to be erased.
"This legislation will clear the cannabis-related records of nonviolent offenders through an efficient combination of automatic expungement, of gubernatorial pardon and individual court action," Pritzker said at a bill-signing event. "Today, we're giving hundreds of thousands of people the chance at a better life."
Illinois is the second state to legalize small amounts of marijuana for adult use solely through the legislative process and the first to authorise retail sales of the substance legislatively. Vermont lawmakers approved adult marijuana use in 2018.
Since 2012, voters in nine states and the District of Columbia approved legalization measures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Marijuana-related bills were considered in 25 state legislatures this year, including in New York and New Jersey, but Illinois is the only one to enact a measure so far, according to advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project.
The Illinois law, which legalizes adult usage and allows for marijuana sales from licensed dispensaries starting on Jan. 1, is projected to generate over $57 million in new tax and fee revenue in fiscal 2020, which begins on July 1. Marijuana-related tax revenue is estimated to climb to $140.5 million in fiscal 2021 and to $375.5 million in fiscal 2024, according to Illinois' revenue department.
Some of the proceeds after administrative and other expenses are earmarked for drug prevention, public safety, and programs in disadvantaged communities, while 35% will flow into Illinois' general fund and 10% will be tapped to pay down the state's huge pile of overdue bills, which totalled $6.6 billion on Tuesday.
The use of marijuana for medical purposes in Illinois was authorized starting in 2014. Other states that have legalized recreational marijuana are Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Michigan.
(Reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)