After voters decided to make marijuana legal in both Massachusetts and the nation’s most populous state, California, in last November’s election, two more states are now considering legal pot laws. This time, however, the states would go through the legislative process rather than counting on ballot initiatives to allow marijuana to become legal for sale and recreational, non-medical use.
In addition to Massachusetts and California, voters in Maine and Nevada also gave the green light to recreational, legal marijuana in last November’s election, while Florida, North Dakota, Arkansas and Montana voters just said “yes” to medical marijuana sales in their states.
Now state legislatures in Connecticut and Illinois are both considering new bills to make pot legal in those states — without a doctor’s prescription — as well.
On Wednesday at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, separate but identical bills were introduced in both the state House and Senate to allow Illinois adults at least 21 years of age to purchase marijuana for recreational use at licensed and regulated dispensaries — when showing acceptable proof of age, as is also required to purchase alcoholic beverages.
The bills, sponsored by Illinois State Senator Heather Steans and Representative Kelly Cassidy — both from Chicago — would also allow state residents to grow their own pot, cultivating up to five plants at once in their private homes.
The legal marijuana bills are designed to help Illinois overcome a budget shortfall of about $5 billion. The Illinois bills would tax pot wholesalers at a rate of $50 per ounce, while also slapping a 6.25 percent sales tax on retail sales to marijuana consumers.
“Legalizing and taxing marijuana will not and should not solve all of our budget woes, but it should be a part of the conversation about resolving Illinois’ worsening budget problems. Every bit of new revenue will help to close the governor’s $5 billion budget gap,” said Steans, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.
According to The Marijuana Policy Project, if the legal marijuana bills become law in Illinois, they could put as much as an additional $700 million into state coffers.
In Connecticut, fears that potential tax revenues could be lost to neighboring Massachusetts — which plans to introduce legal marijuana sales in July of 2018 afrer voters there approved last year’s ballot initiative — sparked legislators to introduce a similar legal pot bill in January of this year.
The Connecticut legislation aims at taxing legal marijuana at an overall rate of 30 percent, but according to a Brookings Institute study, that rate could actually be too steep.
Excessive taxes on legal pot could cause retail customers to stick with the same illegal marijuana sellers they now use, or to travel across state lines to buy their marijuana, Brookings researcher John Hudak testified in a legislative hearing this week.
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The Connecticut legislators also heard high school students testify that legal pot would cause teenagers to use marijuana at a higher rate than they do now. But a study by the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey found last year that pot use by teens had not shown any increase since 2014 when that state first introduced legal, recreational marijuana.
[Featured Image by Theo Stroomer/Getty Images]