Mayor of Chicago Pushing for Marijuana Legalization to Fund Pensions

Could legal weed and a new casino help Chicago keep up with the cost of pensions?
Mayor of Chicago Pushing for Marijuana Legalization to Fund Pensions

The legalization of marijuana has been an ongoing question in Illinois for the past several years. And now, the movement to legalize may have just received another strong voice of support. That’s because Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel just announced a new idea that would use taxes from legal weed sales to fund city pensions.

Mayor Emanuel Wants to Legalize Weed

Earlier this morning, Mayor Emanuel announced a new plan to address the city’s growing problems keeping up with pensions. Interestingly, the legalization of recreational cannabis was one of the central pieces of his plan.

As reported by local news sources, Emanuel wants the state of Illinois to legalize recreational marijuana. This would allow the state to establish a framework for regulating and taxing cannabis retail, which Emanuel said would bring state and local governments much-needed revenue.

Speaking at a meeting with the Chicago City Council, Emanuel said that he plans to urge state lawmakers to consider legalization.

Emanuel said that if weed became legal in Illinois, he would be able to earmark a portion of the new tax revenues to fund city pensions. Further, he told City Council members that this plan would be a good way to generate new funding without putting the burden on taxpayers.

Additionally, Emanuel also proposed building a casino in Chicago as another way to bring in additional funds. These funds would then work along with potential cannabis tax revenues to fund city pensions.

Per local sources, Chicago is facing an increasing dilemma regarding its pensions. Put simply, the city is struggling to come up with the funds needed to pay pensions, many of which are longstanding arrangements from the past. By 2020, the city will reportedly pay out $276 million in pensions.

Facing this growing challenge, city officials have been looking for new solutions. Emanuel’s idea to build a new casino and to push for legal weed are the newest proposals brought to City Council.

Marijuana in Illinois

Currently, Illinois has a medical marijuana program. As of October 2018, there are more than 46,000 qualifying patients in the program. Additionally, there are 55 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Illinois.

As for the recreational front, weed remains illegal. However, Illinois became the 21st state to decriminalize marijuana back in 2016.

While decriminalization often functions as a move toward less punitive cannabis laws, the state continues to see problems related to its weed laws. For example, a study found that cops in Chicago continue to arrest a disproportionately high number of African Americans for weed related offenses.

But things could be heading in a new direction. In addition to Emanuel’s support of legalization, Illinois’ governor-elect has already committed to pushing for legalization.

In fact, Governor-Elect J.B. Pritzker told reporters from the Chicago Sun-Times that he plans to focus on legalization early in his term, which begins next year.

“We have an opportunity here in Illinois to bring $700 million in revenue to the state, to create jobs across the state—dispensaries, production facilities,” he said shortly after winning the election in November.

Pritzker also said he wants to move beyond simply legalizing recreational weed. Most importantly, he said he also wants to see legislation that includes a way to expunge weed offenses from criminal records.

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