The battle over legalization continues
Lawmakers plan to introduce a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in early February, following a series of public hearings in Chicago over the legislative break.
On Jan. 22, lawmakers in Chicago held their fourth and last public hearing concerning legalization. The meeting focused on the public health aspect of legalization, weighing the potential harm legalization might cause against the projected benefits.
Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, supports more expansive legalization.
“Prohibition simply does not work,” Steans said. “In Illinois, it’s estimated that about 750,000 people use cannabis, and we only have about 24,000 people with medical cannabis cards.”
At the hearing, Steans said, “The goal is to reduce the black market, keep teens away and bring in revenue to a safe and secure environment.”
However, opponents claim that the proposed legislation would do more harm than good.
Dr. Aaron Wiener of Linden Oaks Behavioral Health said, “Good drug policy discourages use, while not harming those already struggling with addiction. I’m very concerned, as we’re currently framing this discussion, our new legislation might not do that.”
In December, Gov. Bruce Rauner said legalizing marijuana is “a mistake.”
“You know there’s a massive, human experiment going on in Colorado, and California, other places,” he said. “We should see how that’s impacted lives and addiction and hurt young people before we make any decision about it here.”
“Marijuana is absolutely, 100 percent, an addictive drug,” Wiener said. “The CDC says 1 in 10 adults become addicted, 1 in 6 children become addicted.”
Proponents argue that legalization would help lower the risk to people who use marijuana, as legalization provides more regulation.
“Those folks who are turning this on street corners are not concerned about the age of the person who is buying, they are not concerned about the quality, the integrity of the substance or product that they are selling,” Steans said. “Going toward legalization simply has shown in other states to improve the quality of the product, reduce the black market and then you can tax and regulate it.”
Beyond matters of public health, legalization efforts also find support from an economic standpoint.
Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, is open to legalization, noting the potential economic benefits.
“I come as a fiscal conservative who recognizes we need to broaden our tax base,” Barickman said last December. “This is an opportunity to broaden our tax base and hold, if not reduce, the individual income tax rates that today we’re struggling with.”
Barickman called for bipartisanship on the issue, and said, “Rather than flippantly dismissing this idea, the governor ought to study it further, hear from Republicans around the state, and others, and reevaluate the position that he has taken on this issue.”
Proponents estimate that legalizing marijuana could bring in an additional $300 million to $700 million in tax revenue annually.
Last spring, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found that the majority of Illinois residents support legalization of recreational marijuana, particularly when considering regulating and taxing it like alcohol.
Megan Swett is an editorial intern with Illinois Times. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.