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Lawmakers move to legalize recreational marijuana

Brock A. Stein | 4/5/2017, 3 p.m.
A pair of bills in the Illinois Senate and House could legalize the use of recreational marijuana around the state ...

Entering its 3rd year without a budget with a steadily climbing pile of debt, a group of Illinois lawmakers have introduced a bill that could help the state generate more revenue and pay off some of those unpaid bills.

In March, two bills were introduced in the state senate and house that would make it legal for adults 21 years and older to purchase, possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

Senate bill (SB 316) and House bill (HB 2353) each introduced by Chicago Democrats, would make it possible for the state to license and regulate businesses to sell recreational marijuana as well as require safety regulations with an eye toward removing the criminal aspects of selling the currently un-regulated product.

Lifting the restrictions would also provide a new revenue stream for the state with the proposed legislation calling for a $50-per-ounce excise tax for wholesale distribution as well as the state’s 6.25% sales tax at the retail level.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, a lobbying and education group based in Washington, the sale of recreational cannabis in Illinois could generate between $349 million and $699 million in added revenue from both the wholesale excise tax and sales tax.

An analysis by the group also notes the added revenue that could be generated from “additional income taxes, license and registration fees, and ancillary businesses such as construction, testing labs, suppliers, professionals.”

The study also notes “the potential tax windfall that could take place should Illinois become the first state in the region to regulate marijuana for adult use” and its potential to attract tourists to the state. State Representative Kelly Cassidy, one of the sponsors of the bill in the Illinois House, said that the tax revenue generated could be “a drop in the bucket” compared to those potential added revenues from visitors from out of state.

Cassidy said that the bill’s sponsors looked at the examples from other states like Colorado which she said wasn’t expecting the influx of tourism that resulted from its legalization. In addition to the revenue generation, Cassidy said that legalization would also help save money at the local level on law enforcement and incarceration.

Cassidy said the legislation is the “start of a conversation” on the topic of legalized adult use which she indicated was inevitable.

“It’s not a question of if but when,” said Cassidy during a video discussion online.

The State passed a medical cannabis bill at the end of then-Governor Quinn’s tenure in office and the law took effect in 2014. The law allows for the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana and for the operation of 60 dispensaries and 22 cultivation centers — one for each state police district — to be located across the state.

The law, which was originally set to expire in 2018, will now sunset in 2020 thanks to an extension approved in July last year that also added post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and terminal illness to the list of approved conditions that can be treated with medical pot.

Illinois patients with a medical marijuana ID are allowed to obtain up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks if they are using it to treat one of the 41 specified medical conditions under what is still considered a pilot program.