Illinois, one of the nation’s most populous states, could soon join the ranks of the limited few with recreational marijuana following the filing Wednesday of proposed pro-pot legislation in the state House and Senate.
Democrats proposed identical bills in both chambers that would legalize the use, cultivation and distribution of marijuana and establish a framework for taxing and regulating the plant, potentially making the Land of Lincoln the next state to skirt the federal prohibition on pot.
Senate Bill 316 and an amendment to House Bill 2353 would let adults 21 and over harvest weed and have up to 28 grams at a time in addition to establishing a framework for taxing and selling marijuana “in a manner similar to alcohol,” according to their authors, State Sen. Heather Steans and State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, Democrats from Chicago.
Smoking weed in public and driving under the influence would both remain illegal, and any pot sold in the state would be subject to strict scrutiny from Springfield such as testing, labeling and regulations. Under the state’s authority, however, the bill’s authors believe Illinois could earn millions in annual revenue.
“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,” Ms. Steans told Chicago’s ABC-7.
Colorado passed the nation’s premiere recreational marijuana law in 2012 and opened its first non-medical dispensaries in January 2014. Hundreds of state-licensed shops have since sprung up across the state, and its first-of-its-kind cannabis industry sold over $1 billion worth of medical and recreational weed during 2016, in turn earning the state nearly $200 million in taxes and fees.
Ms. Steans said she expects similar measures would fare well in Illinois, which boasts a population more than double that of Colorado – nearly 13 million residents, according to recent figures.
“In a regulated system, the money would go into the cash registers of licensed, taxpaying businesses,” Ms. Steans says on her website. “It would generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year in new revenue for our state. Prohibition is a financial hole in the ground, and we should stop throwing taxpayer dollars into it.”
A spokesman for Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office said the bills were being reviewed, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Recreational marijuana is currently legal in eight states and Washington, D.C. Additionally more than half the nation has established medical marijuana programs for patients with certain conditions since California launched the country’s first in 1996, Illinois included.
Marijuana nonetheless remains illegal under federal law, though President Trump said prior to his election that he believed legalization should be considered state-by-state. The Justice Department has failed to take action against any states with either medical or recreational programs since Mr. Trump took office earlier this year.
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