Two Illinois lawmakers want to legalize pot for tax revenue

FOX 32 NEWS - The recreational use of marijuana may not be legalized in Illinois this year, but two state legislators still plan to begin public hearings next week, and it may become an issue in next year's campaign for governor.

Eight states and the District of Columbia now allow adults to possess and consume cannabis, the active ingredient in marijuana, treating it as an intoxicant similar to alcohol.

Two North Side state legislators argued that if Illinois joined them, there would be lots of new tax revenue each year.

“We estimate that doing it this way could generate revenues of up to $350 million to $700 million,” said Senator Heather Steans.

They’ve invited the state of Colorado’s revenue director to testify at a public hearing in the Loop scheduled for next Wednesday. Colorado legalized consumption of cannabis in 2012. Retail sales totaled more than $1.3 billion last year, generating more than $200 million in taxes and fees in a state with less than half Illinois’ population.

Voters in Illinois used to oppose legalizing recreational pot, but a large majority now favors it.

“Over 66% of people in Illinois support full legalization,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy.

That poll last month found legalizing recreational cannabis was favored by 76% of Democrats, 68% of Independents and 52% of Republicans. 

Some law enforcers argue legalization would cut gangsters out of cannabis and possibly reduce street level violence.

“If you take that profit margin away from street gangs and drug cartels, and put it into a controlled, regulated business, everybody would benefit,” said Brian Gaughan of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Gov. Rauner strongly opposes legalizing recreational pot, but every major Democrat getting ready to run for governor next year favors it. It could become a significant issue.

Next Wednesday's hearing is set for noon at 160 N. LaSalle in the Loop.

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