* Press release…
Illinois could see up to $699 million in new revenue by legalizing cannabis use among adults through a measure that would spur economic development while protecting public safety. Lawmakers heard from advocates today during a combined Senate and House hearing.
Among those testifying was nationally-known travel writer and television host Rick Steves, an active proponent for ending America’s prohibition of marijuana.
“I’m not pro-drugs – I’m pro-civil liberties and anti-prohibition,” Steves said. “Marijuana is here to stay. We can either keep building more prisons or figure out a better solution. I think it’s obvious what the solution is, and it’s happening around the country as it did in my home state of Washington. We need to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults.”
“It is clear that prohibition doesn’t work and that by lifting cannabis restrictions we can encourage economic development in Illinois,” State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) said. “We are carefully considering all aspects and potential impacts of legalizing adult-use cannabis, including job growth.”
In addition to increased tax revenue, legalized cannabis could provide a boost for job growth in Illinois. According to a report from New Frontier Data earlier this year, the legal marijuana market could create more than 250,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2020. Legalizing adult-use marijuana creates a variety of jobs including scientists, dispensary employees, growers, among others.
“Legalizing cannabis will spur the creation of new small businesses and much-needed jobs,” State Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) said. “We are leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity on the table by continuing the outdated status quo of prohibition.”
Tax revenue from the proposed legislation would support the State Board of Education; treatment and education programs for responsible marijuana, alcohol and tobacco use; and the state’s General Revenue Fund.
“In Washington, we have a track record and we know it works,” Steves said. “States like mine that have legalized marijuana have learned that use doesn’t go up, crime doesn’t go up, DUIs do not go up. The only thing that goes up is tax revenue, as we take the thriving illicit market and transform it into a highly regulated and highly taxed system.”
Today’s hearing was part of a series of hearings on the various aspects of legalizing cannabis use among adults. Changes to the legislation may be proposed in the new year based on these findings.
Black market marijuana has the effect of “empowering organized crime and gangs,” he said.
Steves testified before a joint House-Senate committee hearing at the Bilandic Building in the Loop, where he also warned against focusing too much on filling government coffers by taxing marijuana.
“The beauty of this, economically, is getting rid of the crime,” he said.
Over-taxation can lead marijuana users back to cheaper weed on the black market, he said.
Agreed on the over-taxation warning and about how doing nothing means we’re empowering the criminal element.
* One Republican state Senator wasn’t impressed…
* But Steves had a pretty good rebuttal…
State Sen. Dan McConchie, a Republican from Hawthorn Woods, challenged Steves’ assertion that legalization has caused no problems elsewhere. McConchie cited studies suggesting increased adult use of marijuana in places that have legalized it, and called for better data on the question before acting.
“There’s been a number of broad-brush statements that you have made … but the data does not bear that out,” McConchie said. “Just because you legalize it doesn’t necessitate that all of these problems are going to go away. … I think we would be jumping the gun to legalize this in the absence of robust data.”
People will smoke pot whether it’s legal or not, Steves maintained, arguing that it’s much better to tax and regulate it rather than creating a criminal class of users. He testified that the marijuana industry is generating $300 million a year in tax revenue and 26,000 jobs in Washington, while reducing law enforcement and prison costs.
“Nothing has changed except there’s not people selling marijuana illegally on the streets. They’re selling it in the shops,” he said.