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Here's why marijuana will eventually be legal in Illinois

Here's why marijuana will eventually be legal in Illinois
Photograph: CC/Flickr/tanjila ahmed

Regardless of how you feel personally about recreational marijuana, the majority of Illinoisans and the vast majority of Chicagoans support marijuana legalization. According to a recent poll from a public policy institute at Southern Illinois University, 66 percent of voters in the state support recreational marijuana, while 74 percent of Chicagoans are in favor of legalization. Citing these and other statistics, state lawmakers and marijuana reform advocates held a press conference in Chicago on Wednesday to unveil a new approach to making pot legal in the Land of Lincoln.

Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy, both of Chicago, were joined by figures from various marijuana advocacy groups to lay out how they plan to grow bipartisan support of pending legislation that would make it legal for adults to possess, purchase and grow small amounts of marijuana. Through public hearings, mobilizing support and sound policy, the message on Wednesday was that it's only a matter of time until grass gets a pass.

"Our feeling is that this is a 'when' not 'if' proposition," said Cassidy, who along with policy experts, members of the law enforcement community and religious leaders made their case for recreational marijuana use. These are a few of the main reasons why advocates feel weed will eventually have its day in Illinois.

More and more people support legalization.

The old adage that people change faster than politicians is certainly true here. But when you consider the 700,000 people in Illinois who admit to using marijuana and the fact that 97 percent of them buy the drug from an unregulated market, the revenue potential could be enough to sway our representatives in Springfield.

Legalization would make the state a lot of money.

State officials are seeing green when it comes to pot, and rightfully so. The Marijuana Policy Project estimates that a regulated recreational marijuana industry in Illinois could generate up to $699 million of additional state revenue—that's a lot of coin for a state that can barely afford to perform annual road maintenance. "Legalizing recreational marijuana will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to the state," Cassidy says. "We're discussing all sorts of proposals to end the budget impasse, and we thought this should be part of the conversation as well." 

The public safety benefits might shock you.

Most of us know just how sketchy it can be to buy a bag of weed in states that outlaw its use. Whether in an alley outside of a concert or in the basement of your increasingly paranoid dealer, these simple transactions can carry grave consequences. Just ask retired police officer Brian Gaughan of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership—a group of more than 100,000 current and former police officers that supports drug policy and criminal justice reform. Gaughan says a lesser known effect of marijuana criminalization is violent crime fueled by illicit cannabis purchases. "If you take that profit margin away from street gangs and drug cartels and put into a controlled and regulated business, everyone would benefit."

Recreational marijuana creates a ton of jobs.

In addition to legalization, the pending bills would create a process to regulate and license businesses that cultivate, process, test and sell marijuana. With a customer base potentially numbering in the millions, you'd need to grow a lot of pot and that requires people. Add the number of workers needed to package, ship and sell the product, and you can see the jobs potential. This would be a completely new industry in Illinois, after all. 

The writing's on the wall.

During Wednesday's press conference, speakers also announced the launch of a Coalition for a Safer Illinois—an advocacy group comprised of citizens, community leaders, and local and national organizations tasked with mobilizing support for legalization efforts in the state. The coalition of groups nationwide that support legalization is why Rev. Alexander Sharp—executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy—is for recreational marijuana use. Steans and Cassidy are also taking their cue from outside of Illinois, saying their bill reflects lessons and best practices already learned in other states. Instead of rushing to a vote, the lawmakers will instead hold a series of hearings on recreational marijuana and adjust the final legislation to reflect information presented in those hearings. Steans said a vote isn't expected this legislative session, so don't spark up just yet.

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