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Illinois Lawmakers Propose Marijuana Legalization to Fix State’s Budget

A pair of Illinois state lawmakers introduced legislation last month that would legalize recreational marijuana; a move they claim would help the state deal with its budget deficit.

In an effort to deal with their state’s budget crisis, two Illinois lawmakers last month introduced identical bills — one in the Senate and one in the House – that would legalize and regulate adult use marijuana.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) and Sen. Heather Steans each proposed legislation that would legalize the possession, purchase and cultivation of cannabis for adults aged 21 and older. The Marijuana Policy Project estimates that legalizing marijuana would generate between $349 million to $699 million per year in new tax revenue for Illinois.

“We’re talking about all sorts of ways of raising revenue,” said Cassidy. “We might as well be talking about this, too.”

Cassidy and Stearns have said they expect an uphill battle with fellow lawmakers, and plan to not move forward with the legislation in the current session. Instead they’ll spend the spring talking with lawmakers, interest groups, and the public, to build support.

A poll published just last week by Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale found that nearly 70 percent of Illinoisans support legalizing and regulating marijuana for recreational use. Support for legalization has increased nationwide.

If Illinois were to legalize recreational marijuana, it would become the ninth U.S. state to do so. It would be the first, however, to legalize marijuana by way of lawmaker approval. All other states passed measures via voter ballot initiative.

Colorado, the very first state with an operational recreational program after voters approved an initiative in 2012, brought in $200 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales last year. Revenue is being used to help fund college scholarships, assist the homeless community, and curb school bullying. Washington state is currently generating nearly $1 million in marijuana taxes daily.

State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Stokie), who was the lead sponsor of the state’s medical marijuana proposal that passed in 2013, said that he expects his state to legalize recreational marijuana at some point.

“I do think this might be in Illinois’ future,” said Lang, “I certainly support the idea of having a discussion.”

The bill proposed by Cassidy and Stearns would license and regulate businesses to grow, process, test and sell marijuana to adults. It calls for an excise tax of $50 per ounce at the wholesale level, plus an undetermined sales tax on retail sales.

Dan Linn of the Illinois chapter of cannabis-lobbying group NORML says that states with legal adult use cannabis have not seen an uptick in traffic fatalities. Plus, he argues, legalization and regulation help curtail the illegal market and are more effective for preventing underage use.

“There’s not a drug dealer in this country that asks for an ID when someone’s looking to buy drugs,” Linn said.

Central Illinois newspaper The Pantagraph this week published an editorial supporting the legalization bill, agreeing with its economic effects and claiming it would be beneficial for social and public health.

“Put simply, it’s time to examine our draconian cannabis laws, a holdover from the zero-tolerance ‘War on Drugs’ era that has contributed to overpopulated jails and prisons and numerous social problems that linger today,” it read.

Learn more about the current cannabis laws in Illinois and elsewhere throughout the U.S. by visiting our education page.

Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.

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