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Chicago legislators say recreational weed could generate $699 million in revenue for Illinois

Written by
Jonathan Samples
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Two lawmakers from Chicago’s North Side are sparking an effort to legalize recreational weed in Illinois. State Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy introduced legislation on Wednesday that would make it legal for adults to possess, purchase and grow small amounts of marijuana, as well as create a process for the regulating and licensing of businesses looking to cultivate, process, test and sell legal pot. 

Specifically, the house and senate bills propose changing the Cannabis Control Act to allow people 21 and older to purchase marijuana and make it legal for residents to possess up to 28 grams of weed. Nonresidents could possess only 14 grams, and it would be illegal to smoke your stash in public. Similar to alcohol, you wouldn't be able to get high behind the wheel and regulations such as restrictions on marketing would be developed.

Oh, and there will be taxes. The bill includes a tax of $50 per ounce at the wholesale level and the standard 6.25 percent sales tax on retail sales. According to estimates from the Marijuana Policy Project, Illinois could expect as much as $699 million a year in new revenue by legalizing and regulating weed. “In a regulated system, the money would go into the cash registers of licensed, taxpaying businesses,” Steans, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “It would generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year in new revenue for our state.”

Marijuana legalization advocates also see the legislation as an opportunity for Illinois to get in line with public opinion and end its prohibition on pot. Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, said people are tired of being punished for using a substance they say is “far less harmful than alcohol.”

“The time is right for the Illinois General Assembly to re-examine marijuana prohibition and consider the potential benefits of a thoughtfully crafted regulatory system,” he said in a statement. “The sky has not fallen in the eight states that have made marijuana legal for adults.

“It’s time for Illinois to move past prohibition and stop missing out on the jobs and revenue other states are already getting,” he added.

Steans and Cassidy (who were also co-sponsors of the legislation signed by then-Gov. Pat Quinn in 2013 that made marriage equality a reality in Illinois) agree. The bills are being labeled as an “exit strategy” to what Cassidy described as a “quagmire” prohibition policy. The state rep from Edgewater said prohibition creates more problems than it prevents and it's time for Illinois to join other states that have already adopted “sensible alternatives to prohibition.” Those states are: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington; the District of Columbia also passed measures to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2014.

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