Illinois lawmakers hear testimony for marijuana legalization proposals

Illinois lawmakers hear testimony for marijuana legalization proposals

Two bills to legalize marijuana currently sit in Springfield.

In a joint House-Senate committee hearing Sept. 6, Illinois lawmakers heard testimony from a variety of experts on bills to legalize recreational marijuana.

Former Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division Director Lewis Koski testified before the committee on Colorado’s experience with marijuana legalization. “We were very successful in our ability to be able to enforce laws and regulations through licensing and administrative processes,” Koski said.

State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, are both currently sponsoring marijuana legalization bills. Cassidy filed, and is the primary sponsor of, House Bill 2353. Steans is sponsoring Senate Bill 316.

Both bills would allow residents to carry up to 1 ounce of marijuana, and regulate the substance like alcohol. The proposal would enact a $50-per-ounce excise tax on growers, and consumers would pay state sales tax on purchases. The Marijuana Policy Project estimates that legalized, recreational marijuana could generate $350 million to $700 million in annual tax revenue for state coffers.

However, Steans stated the current proposals were “placeholders,” and subject to change upon receiving feedback and input.

Marijuana legalization is hugely popular in Illinois. A March 2017 poll conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale found 66 percent of Illinois voters support the move to legalize marijuana if it’s regulated and taxed like alcohol.

The same poll revealed majority support for legalization extends across all areas of the state. Of those polled, 74 percent of Chicago voters, 70 percent of collar counties voters and 54 percent of downstate Illinois voters support legalization.

And it’s not just geography. The same poll found a majority of those polled in each age group support legalization of marijuana, with more than 80 percent of people under 35 supporting marijuana legalization.

As of January 2017, eight states and Washington, D.C., had legalized recreational marijuana, according to Business Insider. And as a result of legalization, the marijuana industry is booming, with one estimate from Business Insider saying legal pot is on course to gain more than $20 billion in sales by 2021.

Cassidy’s and Steans’ bills would not be the first move in recent years toward lessening penalties for marijuana possession. Illinois decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in July 2016.

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