The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

IL Lawmakers Introduce Bills To Legalize Marijuana Sales To Adults

By Stephen Gossett in News on Mar 22, 2017 8:40PM

It's high time that Illinois legalizes recreational use of marijuana for adults and taxes its sales, according to two state legislators who have both introduced bills on Wednesday that would do just that. (Sorry, no more weed puns below.)

Regulated legalization would improve safety in communities, help businesses and the local economy and—in perhaps advocates' most full-throated argument—generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year for the perpetually broke state, supporters argued.

Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) brought forth separate bills to the state Senate and House, respectively. If passed (a humungous "if," mind you), both would allow people 21 and over to buy, grow and posses "limited amounts" of weed. Selling businesses would apply for licenses, and a state agency would regulate operations—which would include limits on advertising and mandatory labeling, among other stipulations.

“Marijuana prohibition is a quagmire that creates far more problems than it prevents,” Cassidy said in a statement.

Using Colorado, where recreational marijuana use is legal, as a gauge, the Marijuana Policy Project projected Illinois could generate between $349 million and $699 per year on marijuana if prohibition were lifted and the drug were allowed to be sold and taxed. In the eight states where recreational marijuana is legal—at least under state law, if not federal, of course—legal weed sales brought in $500 million from taxes last year, according to Yahoo Finance.

Both bills call for taxing marijuana at $50 per ounce, wholesale level, plus the standard Illinois sales tax rate.

“Right now, all the money being spent on marijuana is going into the pockets of criminals and cartels,” Steans said in a statement. “In a regulated system, the money would go into the cash registers of licensed, taxpaying businesses. 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.”

Eleni Demertzis, a spokesperson for Gov. Bruce Rauner, told Chicagoist via email that "the two bills are currently under review" by the governor's office. Rauner has in the past advanced the state's medical marijuana program, if hesitatingly. After initial opposition to expansion, the governor agreed to a compromise last year that extends the program to July 1, 2020.

Of course, even if one of the bills were to pass, it would be greeted by a federal government that appears increasingly hostile to state-legalized recreational marijuana. "There’s still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said last month. But for legalization advocates, the introduction of today's bills is at least cause for higher hopes. (Sorry, last one.)