Differences apparent in pot legalization debate

By Greg Bishop 
Illinois News Network

Proponents and opponents of legalizing recreational pot in Illinois are firing up their talking points after a proposal to legalize the sale of weed for recreational purposes sprouted up this week.

Opponents of legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana for recreational use say they don’t care how much revenue it could generate for Illinois’ failed finances.

Amendments to bills in the House and Senate this week would allow for the sale of recreational marijuana with a $50 tax per ounce. That would be on top of any sales tax. The legislation also would allow adults to grow the plant.

Supporters say it could generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the state.

Democratic state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, sponsor of the House measure, said it’s a win, win, win.

“For me it’s common sense,” Cassidy said. “We can create jobs. We can bring in revenue. We can make our communities safer. All with taking this thoughtful vote.”

There are critics, however. Anita Bedell, executive director of Illinois Church Action on Alcohol & Addiction Problems, said, “Just because something brings in revenue doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. They’re not considering the harm, they’re not considering costs.”

Proponents also say it will spur on jobs.

“So has gambling, so has other things …,” Bedell said. “There’s always going to be money in some things, but this is not a good way to have money for Illinois, and it would just cause more harm and cause more damage.”

Both sides also addressed whether legalization would affect black market sales.

Former Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Inge Fryklund supports legalization and said anytime something people want is illegal, mayhem is sure to ensue.

“Whenever there’s a product which is illegal, but people want it, it’s going to be supplied by the criminal market,” Fryklund said. “And the criminals are going to be making all the decisions, keeping all the revenues, and because this is a business, there are going to be business disputes and because they can’t sue each other in the circuit court of Cook County, they go out and kill each other,”

Because black market business disputes are settled with street violence, legalization would mean disputes could be handled in courts, Fryklund added.

Illinois Family Institute’s David Smith opposes legalization and said there would still be a black market.

“The guy on the street that’s selling the pot doesn’t have to have the brick and mortar and the overhead and the employees and the insurance, and the workman’s comp,” Smith said.

Smith also dismissed proponents who say illegal marijuana is a criminal justice issue because, he said, there are a very small number of inmates in the system for drug possession only.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police said they oppose the bill because of the traffic safety concerns.

The bill will likely change before any votes are cast. However, legalization advocate Dan Linn said they won’t compromise on allowing adults to grow up to five plants at home.

Medical marijuana was legalized in Illinois in 2015. As of Feb. 28, the program has logged more than $47 million in sales, according to the state’s website.

Last year, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it a civil offense with a fine of no more than $200.

Rauner’s office said Thursday the governor is currently reviewing the legalization measure.

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