Illinois lawmakers gather to discuss legalizing pot

FOX 32 NEWS - Should Illinois join a growing group of states that treat marijuana more or less like alcohol -- allowing any adult to use it? A joint committee of the Illinois House and Senate held a hearing on it Wednesday. They focused on what's happened in Colorado, where pot's been legal since 2012.

Illinois legislators heard the plusses of Colorado's booming marijuana markets: retail sales $1.3 billion a year and rising, employing about 18,000, and paying nearly $200 million in taxes.

“We just want to learn about it and really see if there's something here that makes sense for the State of Illinois to also do,” Sen. Heather Steans.

Legalization has a downside. Colorado's now Number One in per capita pot consumption, with side effects like a 48 percent increase in fatal traffic accidents. A former Drug Enforcement Administrator predicted legalization here would cause 75 additional marijuana-related highway deaths each year.

“Terrible idea! It’s a disaster waiting to happen in Illinois. It’s gonna increase damage to youth. It's gonna increase highway accidents and fatalities,” said Peter Bensinger, former director of the DEA.

An estimated 750,000 Illinoisans already use pot on a regular basis. Some argue that, just as with alcohol prohibition, outlawing marijuana enables violent gangsters to control the multi-billion dollar business here. 

An official from Colorado claimed legalization did not bring a big increase in the number of regular users.

“We have a healthy kids Colorado survey. We’re not seeing an increase or a change in youth use or even really adult use. There are some differences up and down throughout the years. But it's not statistically significant,” said Barbara Brohl of the Colorado Department of Revenue.

Even supporters concede they do not have the votes in the General Assembly to legalize marijuana right now. That's why there likely won't be a vote on the issue in Springfield until next year at the earliest.

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