Recreational marijuana legalization may someday be a reality in Illinois. Earlier this week, legislators filed a bill allowing persons over 21 to buy, possess, and grow cannabis in the state.
New marijuana legalization proposals were introduced to both the state house and senate. Each bill describes a state-run system that would regulate and license businesses to grow, market, and sell cannabis to both Illinois citizens and out-of-state visitors. Under the new rules, the state government would also have the power to collect $50 for every ounce of wholesale weed sold, while also charging 6.25 percent on retail sales.
Should marijuana legalization happen in the state as proposed, Illinois residents will be able to legally grow five cannabis plants. While available for sale to Illinois visitors, cannabis would still be illegal to transport across state lines under the new rules.
Marijuana legalization advocates were already expecting the bills to be introduced and many were at the state capitol when the news was announced. As reported by the Chicago Reader, the executive director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), Dan Linn, said the proposed legislation was only a matter of time as legal recreational cannabis is becoming an effective way for states to raise money.
“Obviously, the state of Illinois needs money and people are looking at the success of [recreational marijuana sales] in Washington and Colorado.”
Experts predict a huge windfall for marijuana legalization in Illinois. According to estimates published by the Marijuana Policy Project, the state could generate upwards of $700 million in new tax revenue. This additional money would go a long way toward solving the budget crisis and other unfunded liabilities Illinois is facing. The supplementary funds would be distributed among the state’s general fund, school districts, and programs for drug abuse treatments and prevention.
The Illinois marijuana legalization bills were co-sponsored by Senator Heather Steans and Representative Kelly Cassidy. Besides the projected financial benefits to the state, both lawmakers believe regulating cannabis instead of prohibiting it would solve crime problems as well.
“Regulating marijuana and removing the criminal element from marijuana production and sales will make our communities safer,” said Cassidy, as cited by the Chicago Tribune.
In contrast, many state law enforcement agencies disagree with legalizing recreational pot. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police believes marijuana use is a threat to public safety and a conflict with federal law. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan have yet to comment on the weed legalization bills.
Illinois already has one of the strictest medical marijuana programs in the country. The current medical cannabis rules allow patients who suffer from one of about 40 different debilitating health conditions to buy the drug. Since Illinois does not consider chronic pain as a qualifying condition like most states, only 17,000 patients are registered to use medical marijuana. The anticipated new law authorizes medical marijuana dispensaries to also sell recreational weed.
In August, a new Illinois marijuana law decriminalized pot possession. Anyone caught with 10 grams or less of cannabis will receive a $200 fine but will avoid jail time. The state law allows local communities to raise the fine and add additional punishments, such as mandatory drug treatment for repeat offenders. In Chicago, the fine can be as high as $500, but under a 2012 marijuana decriminalization city ordinance, a person may possess 15 grams of pot without going to jail. Unless a person can show medical authorization to use the drug, police still have the option to seize and destroy any weed found in someone’s possession.
While the proposed recreational marijuana legalization bills were recently introduced in Illinois, it is not likely lawmakers will vote on them until 2018. Over the next several months, planned public hearings will be held to discuss any modifications needed to the bills and to confirm the people’s support for legalizing recreational cannabis.
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