A proposal designed to legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois is now under consideration by the state legislature.
On Wednesday, cannabis advocates and law enforcement officials duked it out before a joint House-Senate appropriations committee over whether to end pot prohibition in the Land of Lincoln.
Those in favor of a legal cannabis market, similar to what is currently underway in Colorado, believe the move would free up police resources and contribute millions of dollars in tax revenue to the downtrodden economy, while opposing forces are concerned the move will increase addiction rates and create more incidents of stoned driving.
“There would be more people driving under the influence of cannabis,” said Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Milhiser, according to the Associated Press. “The community would not be better off, the state would not be better off, with legalization.”
Senator Heather Steans and Representative Kelly Cassidy brought the marijuana legalization proposals (SB316 and HB2353) to the table earlier this year. The lawmakers believe this legislation is “in the interest of allowing law enforcement to focus on violent and property crimes, generating revenue for education and other public purposes, and individual freedom.”
Under the proposed legislation, adults 21 and older would have the freedom to purchase marijuana from retail outlets in a manner similar to alcohol. It also comes with a home cultivation provision that would allow adults to grow up to five plants at home for personal use.
A similar bill was introduced in the 2017 session, but it failed to gain the necessary traction to win a hearing. It is for this reason that Steans and Cassidy wanted to make sure to give the current language, which includes changes in regulatory and tax structure, the appropriate time for discussion, so the issue has a fighting chance at going the distance next year.
During yesterday’s hearing, Cassidy told her colleagues that the best course of action Illinois could take to combat some of the black market drug activity that has become so prevalent in major cities like Chicago is to create a legitimate area of commerce for cannabis.
“Right now, anyone can go to a street corner and buy it,” Cassidy said. “Drug dealers don’t ‘card,’ but you can’t even get into a dispensary if you’re under 21.”
Some of the latest data shows that Illinois might be able to solve its multi-billion dollar budget crisis by bringing marijuana out of the underground. The state stands to generate in upwards of $700 million in new tax revenue by implementing the reforms proposed under the current legislation.
But even if the state legislature is receptive to the idea, it is still anyone’s guess whether Governor Bruce Rauner will embrace the change. At this point, all Rauner’s office is willing to say on the matter is that he promises to give the bill full consideration if it lands on his desk.
Considering some of the governor’s previous apprehensions toward the expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program, it is possible that it could take some real magic to gain his support.
If the state legislature is unsuccessful in passing a recreational marijuana law in 2018, there is some speculation that we could see a marijuana ballot initiative in an upcoming election.
Last month, the Chicago-based company behind the popular game Cards Against Humanity launched a “Weed Pack” in order to raise money to further the legalization debate. The company has already donated $110,442 in sales to the national cannabis advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project, which will be used to change “marijuana laws for the better, in Illinois and nationwide,” according to CAH head writer Jo Feldman.