Illinois lawmakers hear from celebrity pot advocate: Legalize marijuana

State lawmakers have taken another step towards legalizing recreational marijuana.

Illinois lawmakers on Tuesday heard from a celebrity advocate better known for touring than toking.

Rick Steves is best known for introducing millions of people to the wonders of Europe. but the longtime PBS travel host unpacked his bags in Chicago to advocate for something else close to his heart--the legalization of pot.

“We are dealing with decades of Reefer Madness kind of misinformation,” Steves said.

Steves has campaigned across the country--and poured money from his own pocket--into efforts to legalize marijuana.

On Tuesday, he told a joint panel of house and senate lawmakers that legalization in his home state of Washington in 2012 has only been beneficial. 

"When you legalize marijuana, use does not go up. Teen use does not go up. DUI's don't go up. Crime does not go up. What goes up is tax revenue and what goes down is black market,” Steves said.

But a Republican lawmaker challenged Steves, saying the issue still needs a lot of study.

"He was using broad brushes to say things like usage has not gone up. Clearly usage has gone up even by the own standard of proponents. He was saying crime has not gone up. In Denver crime has gone up,” said State Senator Dan McConchie.

A bill introduced in Springfield would make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess, grow and purchase limited amounts of marijuana.

Some lawmakers say the state needs to get a piece of the action.

"I think that the legalization of marijuana represents a tremendous economic opportunity for the state of Illinois to raise additional tax dollars that can go towards public infrastructure, schools,” said State Rep. Christian Mitchell.

The panel also heard from a state representative from Colorado, which legalized pot in 2014.

"We have a 2.3 percent unemployment rate right now. So it's not like folks are sitting around on the couch getting stoned eating Cheetos and forgetting to go to work,” said Co. Rep. Dan Pabon.

Sponsors of the legalization bill say they plan to continue to hold hearings to build support and learn from the growing pains of other states where it's already the law.