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POINT: Should Illinois legalize recreational use of cannabis?

Yes: State should allow, tax and regulate adult cannabis cultivation and responsible consumption

p04 LinnBy DAN LINN
    Illinois should legalize cannabis. Taking this industry out of the illegal sector and bringing it above the table would create jobs, provide needed tax revenue and end another failed prohibition.
    There was a time when this country outlawed alcohol and we teach students the Noble Experiment failed and why it failed. Sure, Al Capone enjoyed the lucrative aspect of alcohol prohibition but that prohibition did not work and cannabis prohibition is not working for the same reasons.
    Cannabis use is still common despite being federally illegal. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health 22.2 million Americans have admitted to consuming cannabis in the past month. This is proof that cannabis prohibition is not preventing people from accessing this substance, and regulating and taxing cannabis is a better option. Cannabis consumers are probably one of the only segments of the population that actually want higher taxes! Many cannabis consumers would prefer to buy a legal product with quality controls and regulations as well as a sales tax instead of buying something that has no quality controls or legal mechanisms for resolving disputes.
    The biggest concern about a taxed and regulated market for cannabis is how to enforce driving sobriety issues. People should not drive impaired by any substance. If they do they are endangering others, thereby breaking the law, and should be punished accordingly.
    Eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the adult use of cannabis. Illinois would benefit greatly if we were the first midwestern state to re-legalize this plant. Tourism is already a big industry for different regions of our state and by allowing adults to purchase and consume this product we could expect an increase in tourists and the money they spend when they visit. These cannabis consumers would rather pay a tax on their habit and purchase it legally than risk their life dealing with criminals, and with the Illinois state budget stretched thin, how can we afford to keep losing this potential source of tax revenue?
    Estimates for how much tax dollars Illinois could expect from re-legalizing this plant range from $300 million to $700 million per year. Colorado’s legal cannabis market was $1.3 billion in sales in 2016 and they brought in over $200 million in tax revenue according to data released by the Colorado Department of Revenue. Some $50 million of those tax revenues are directly earmarked for Colorado schools.
    We can also foresee that if cannabis prohibition ended, farmers in Illinois would once again grow industrial hemp, which is a non-psychoactive variety of the plant. Illinois once led the country in hemp production during the WWII Hemp for Victory Campaign. Hemp farming would bring investments to rural Illinois in the form of processing mills, which must be located near the fields where hemp is cultivated in order to make it profitable. Kentucky is already moving forward with hemp production and Southern Illinois is prevented from pursuing this opportunity until the law changes.
    Opponents of legalization often use kids and teenagers having greater access to cannabis as a reason not to allow legal cannabis. However, the most recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey on teen use found that teenage cannabis is at a 15-year low despite eight states legalizing the substance. Furthermore, by having regulated sales we would prevent underage consumption because licensed retailers would have an incentive not to sell to underage patrons for fear of arrest, fines and losing their license. On the other hand, there is not a drug dealer in America who asks for an ID when selling to an underage buyer.
    Cannabis has not one documented overdose fatality, which cannot be said about many over-the-counter and prescription drugs found in most homes. In fact, all mammals have an Endocannabinoid System that regulates other systems in the body, which is the reason why medical cannabis can be beneficial for so many conditions. Researchers have identified more than 75 different cannabinoids and two cannabinoid receptors but are still just beginning to learn how important this system is. Before cannabis was made illegal in 1937 it was one of the most widely prescribed medications and many opponents to legalization aren’t aware of why they made this plant illegal in the first place. Reviewing the history of how this plant became illegal reveals a campaign that was laced with racist fearmongering and yellow journalism.
    Are we really afraid of allowing adults to grow and consume this plant? If not, then we should stop repeating the same mistakes as the Noble Experiment and wasting tax dollars and police officers’ time. Illinois should legalize, tax and regulate adult cannabis cultivation and responsible consumption.
    Dan Linn is executive director, Illinois NORML. He wrote this column at the request of the Illinois Business Journal. (Photo by Kelly Weime)

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