SPECIAL REPORT:The possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana

PEORIA, Il. - Legalizing recreational marijuana has been a topic of discussion at the state capitol for many years.

The subject has lawmakers on both sides of the aisle split on whether to support proposals that would make Illinois the next state to allow adult use. Eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted legislation that legalizes recreational marijuana.

Central Illinois Republican Senator Jason Barickman and Chicago Democrat Senator Heather Steans are leading the charge downstate to add Illinois to the list.

“As republicans, we ought to sit at the table here and play a part in negotiating this,” said Barickman.

Steans adds, “Our goal is keeping in place the medical cannabis industry structure that we have right now, which is very carefully monitored. from seed to sale.”

Steans says 95% of marijuana users in the Land of Lincoln do so illegally. She says prohibition is not working and believes a regulated process would reduce black market sales.

“Instead of going to illegal cartel, will instead come to the tax revenue we estimate that it will be between $350-$700 million,” Steans vocalized.

Representative Dan Brady is opposed to medical and recreational marijuana. He thinks cannabis could be a gateway to harder drugs. Brady says, “If it were stand alone revenue and no negatives would come with this, then that would be an easy decision, but that’s not the case in my opinion.”

Steans believes the shift would make it harder for teen use. One proposed regulation is setting an age limit similar to alcohol allowing only those 21 or older to purchase cannabis at dispensaries.

“In 7 out of the 8 states that have legalized, teen use has stayed the same or gone down.” Steans adds, “Only age population that does seem to have any increase in use is 50 and older.”

A new bill heading to the capitol this month proposes sales tax revenues from legalized marijuana be used to fund the state board of education and much more.

“Dollars can go to fund public health campaigns on why you don't want to abuse cannabis or other substances,” Steans says. She adds, “It can go into public education, use it for mental health or substance treatment and also provide it to local law enforcement.”

Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell says his department is keeping a close eye on how recreational marijuana use is monitored in states where it's legal.

“There would have to be a lot of re-training and a lot of collateral costs with that training aspect,” said Asbell

While there is an argument that legalizing marijuana may free up space in jails, and officers could focus their attention on more violent crimes, Asbell says the department would need to remain focused on stopping impaired drivers.

Asbell adds, “We have drug recognition experts, but it’s a very time consuming test, which would take our officers off the street more.”

Illinois currently has 20 cultivation centers across the state that are inspected by the Department of Agriculture weekly, assuring all regulations are met.

“We do everything from genetics, to cross breeding, to harvesting amd processing, trying to take anything from seed to packaging, making things that are accessible and understandable to patients,” said Mark De Souza, CEO of Revolution Enterprises.

Souza says the state would benefit from revenue and job growth, “The amount of jobs we would be able to bring to the central part of state and down state, I think we are behind the curve from a lot of states who have been able to see this growth.”

Senator Steans doesn’t expect the bill to become a law in 2018, but is hopeful Illinois will follow suit as more states nationwide legalize weed.

“It’s a big policy change we've been trying really hard to educating our members and makings sure we have the best possible draft of the bill,” adds Steans.

According to a report from New Frontier Data, the legal cannabis market was worth an estimated seven point two billion dollars in 2016. It is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17 percent.

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