Marijuana Legalization in Illinois

With the election of J.B. Pritzker as Illinois’ next governor, change is coming to the Land of Lincoln. Among the changes the state could see in 2019 is the legalization of recreational marijuana—which proponents suggest could do wonders for the state’s economy. According to a Gallup survey published in October, 66 percent of Americans now support marijuana legalization, including a majority of Republicans and voters over the age of 55—marking a dramatic shift in public opinion in recent years.

While legislation introduced last March failed in both houses of the General Assembly, a similar bill is expected to be introduced early next year. The plan would legalize the sale and use of marijuana for people over the age of 21 and include a six-month period for state officials to create rules and issue licenses. Illinois lawmakers are already looking at how states like Washington and Colorado are faring with such measures. 

A new study—conducted by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI), a libertarian-leaning think tank, and the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—points to substantial financial gains for the state, including reduced incarceration costs, law enforcement spending and legal fees totaling $18.4 million annually. In addition, the ILEPI cites the potential economic benefits that could be had if Illinois were to apply a 6.25% sales tax to the sale of marijuana. They include:

  • $525 million in new tax revenue;
  • More than 23,000 new jobs;
  • An annual economic boost of $1 billion to the state budget; and 
  • The ability to make additional pension payments and investments in infrastructure, K-12 public education, college tuition assistance, and drug treatment and prevention programs. 

In addition, legalization could reduce opioid use by as much as 33 percent, according to the ILEPI study, while helping to reform the broken criminal justice system. House Speaker Mike Madigan announced in November that he now supports proposals to legalize marijuana for adult use. The next session of the Illinois General Assembly begins on January 9, 2019. iBi

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