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74 Percent Of Chicago Voters Support Legalized Recreational Marijuana: Study

By Stephen Gossett in News on Mar 28, 2017 5:56PM

With legislation recently introduced that would end the prohibition of recreational marijuana use in Illinois, legalized weed is once again a smokin' hot topic of political conversation. And according to a new study, it's not all that controversial a topic either, at least among voters. Two-thirds of Illinois voters, 66 percent, are in favor legalization, according to a study conducted by SIU's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Here in Chicago, support is even higher, at 74 percent.

The study, which sampled 1,000 randomly selected registered voters, also found that nearly three-quarters, 74 percent, support measures that decriminalize small amounts of pot from one's personal-use stash. Last July, Gov. Rauner signed a law that decriminalizes possession of 10 grams or less. Those arrests now carry a fine rather than criminal charges.

"Illinois voters are growing increasingly comfortable with the idea of decriminalizing marijuana,” said Jak Tichenor, interim director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, in a statement, “and we now have evidence that most see it as a potential revenue source for the state."

As for outright legalization, the breakdown of support by region, political affiliation and age confirms what you might already suspect. Support is strong in the city of Chicago, where 74 percent support taxed and regulated legal weed. Seventy-six percent of Illinois Democrats are in favor of such a measure. A majority of Republicans in Illinois, in fact, 52 percent, now support the cause, too. The under-35 vote across the state is overwhelmingly a-buzz for legalization: 83 percent. "Baby boomers and the greatest generation sixty-six-years-old and older are split on the issue with 51 percent stating they support or strongly support legalization of recreational marijuana if taxed and regulated like alcohol," researchers wrote.

Despite the robust support, it's looking like slow-burn battle ahead for the pro-legalization camp. Sen. Heather Steans, one of the sponsors, told Crain's that she doesn't expect a vote until 2018 at the earliest. "Our members need some time to get more comfortable with this," Steans told the paper. "(But) this will help. Public sentiment has been moving pretty fast."

For his part, Rauner was far from enthusiastic when asked about the bills last week—although he did leave the door open to some degree. “I'm not a believer that legalizing more drugs will help our society so I’m not philosophically enthusiastic about it, but I’m also open to what actually works to make life better to people,” he said, adding that he's heard "pretty terrible things" about addiction and behavior problems from friends in Colorado, where marijuana use is legal at the state level.

Supporters argue that regulated legalization would improve communities, boost the business climate generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year for the cash-strapped state.