Lawmakers Promote Recreational Marijuana Plan at Town Hall

Lawmakers Promote Recreational Marijuana Plan at Town Hall

SPRINGFIELD (IRN) — Two lawmakers crafting a bill to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Illinois are promoting their plan at town hall events around the state.

State Sen. Heather Steans and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy shared some of the details of the recreational marijuana proposal at a town hall Monday evening in Springfield. The measure would allow adults 21 and older to buy up to an ounce from licensed dispensaries and grow up to five plants indoors. The bill also allows local governments to restrict or prohibit use. Steans and Cassidy held a town hall in Chicago last week.

Revenue from taxes on recreational sales would be earmarked for law enforcement, public education campaigns, substance abuse treatment and programs to help communities affected by the drug war, the sponsors said. Exactly how the money is divided up is being discussed.

“That’s still getting negotiated,” Steans said. “We don’t know whether we’re going to do it by a specific dollar amount or a percentage of the revenue.”

The taxes on recreational sales also haven’t been worked out. Cassidy and Steans said they want to keep the tax low to encourage people to use the regulated market rather than the black market.

Audience members had plenty of questions, including one about impaired driving. Cassidy said that will still be illegal and said studies people cite about increased danger on roadways in states where it has been legalized are often skewed.

Shawn Schollenbruch traveled to Springfield from Decatur in support of cannabis legalization. He said watching the state establish a highly restrictive medical marijuana program years ago was concerning. After learning about proposal Monday, he said he was hopeful.

“When you look at the big long arch, it’s kind of like what MLK said about the arch of the universe is a long curve toward justice,” Schollenbruch said. “Sometimes it’s a bumpy, up-and-down road.”

Cassidy said the measure wasn’t designed to solve the state’s financial problems, but rather to address longstanding criminal justice issues that have taken a greater toll on minorities. The measure would also include a provision to expunge the criminal records of some users. The tax revenue recreational marijuana could generate, an estimated $350 million to $700 million a year, is significant, Cassidy said.

While public polls have shown that most Illinois residents favor legalization, concerns remain.

Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems Executive Director Anita Bedell said she worried the costs will outweigh the benefits.

“They will not be able to pay for all of the regulations, the social costs, and the criminal costs,” Bedell said. “While they say they don’t want to have a high tax they won’t have enough to pay if there’s going to be just like video gambling. They’ll legalize it. More people will get in trouble with it. Then they won’t be able to pay for it.”