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Illinois legalization of marijuana

Chris Patino, Assistant News Editor

With JB Pritzker being sworn in as the 43rd governor of Illinois on Jan. 14, 2019, he promised big changes for the future of the state.  

Getting to work right away, Pritzker started placing new legislation into effect. Mere days following his inauguration, Pritzker has already signed bills regarding state licensing of gun dealers, women’s reproductive rights and wage increases for unionized state workers. 

The issue that garnered the most buzz from Pritzker’s campaign was his intention to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. A hot button issue long discussed by policymakers and voters alike is the idea of legally sanctioned marijuana; it has resulted in a laundry lists of reasons both for and against it with debates showing no sign of reaching a conclusion anytime soon. 

The question that lies at the center of all this noised is what exactly can the legalization of marijuana do for Illinois? 

On his official website, Pritzker states, “There is an abundance of evidence that shows we can legalize marijuana in a safe way. It would have real benefits for Illinois, including reducing opioid overdoses and bringing in much needed revenue from taxation.” 

It's no secret that Illinois has been in financial trouble for some time. Data collected by the nonprofit organization Truth in Accounting labels the Land of Lincoln as a Sinkhole State, ranking it as one of the states with the worst financial health.  

Pritzker and other such proponents have supported the idea that taxation implemented on legal marijuana would provide a boost to the state’s economy. The governor has stated that the monetary returns on such a tax could potentially bring in as much as a $1 billion a year. 

Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, shows mixed results for gross revenue. While the legislation created thousands of jobs, reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes and even brought the town of Pueblo, Colo. back from the brink of economic destitution, it has also led to wholesale prices dropping significantly over the last few years. This means less profit for the state and may end up rendering some forms of the drug valueless. 

This is not to say that the marijuana business is not a money maker. The Colorado Department of Revenue tallied recreational and medical cannabis profits at $1.4 billion with tax income totaling upwards of $266 million. 

Regarding public health and safety, marijuana is lauded as a more wholesome alternative medicine to opioid prescription painkillers. Opioid overdose has become a nationwide crisis claiming more than 130 lives every day in the United States. Illinois saw 2,760 overdose-related deaths in 2017 according to data from the CDC, a 10 percent increase from the year before. 

A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine found that between 2010-2015 states that had legalized medicinal marijuana saw a 14 percent drop in prescription opioid use. Research done between 1999-2010 also showed a 24.8 percent decrease in the rate of opioid overdose deaths in states with medical marijuana laws.  

The data does not take any other state interventions for lowering these rates into account, but the numbers could still prove to be strong argument for Pritzker and his team. 

A total of 10 states have legalized recreational use, while 33 -- including Illinois -- allow use for medicinal practice.