Lawmakers are proposing to legalize recreational cannabis in Illinois, however the legislation will most likely not come up for a vote until 2018. Advocates recently introduced proposals that would make it legal for adults 21 and older to grow, buy, and possess limited amounts of cannabis.
Sponsors said the state would license and regulate businesses to grow, process, and sell the plant, and it would establish safety regulations such as testing and labeling requirements. The proposal would also allow residents to possess up to 28 grams of marijuana and to grow five plants. The bills propose taxing cannabis at a rate of $50 per ounce wholesale, plus the state’s standard 6.25% sales tax.
Based on sales of recreational cannabis in Colorado, the Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy group, estimates sales in Illinois could generate about $350 million to $700 million per year. Governor Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan reserved judgment, as they typically do with new proposals. However, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police opposes legalization, saying cannabis poses a threat to public health and safety, and causes potential enforcement problems because it conflicts with the federal restriction on cannabis.
The co-sponsors, Senator Heather Steans and Representative Kelly Cassidy, both Democrats from Chicago’s North Side, said they do not plan to call the proposal for a vote this session but will hold hearings to get feedback and see whether some version of a legalization proposal can get support next year. Steans said, “If we bring this out in the open, we can generate revenue legally rather than for the black market.”
Cassidy said cannabis prohibition creates far more problems than it prevents. She said, “Regulating marijuana and removing the criminal element from marijuana production and sales will make our communities safer.” Eight states have permitted the sale of the drug, generally by referendum. However, in Illinois, it’s very challenging to get a binding vote on the statewide ballot, so it probably would take legislative action to change the law.