EXCLUSIVE: "Illinois High"
QUINCY, IL —
Illinois lawmakers are considering a proposal that would legalize recreational marijuana. If approved, Illinois would be the 11th state to legalize the drug.
It’s one of Governor J.B Pritzker’s campaign promises.
Governor Pritzker says the push to legalize recreational marijuana is what the state needs to move forward. But is the state ready? Law enforcement has serious concerns. But supporters argue marijuana is a natural remedy to better the quality of life for some residents.
“They think it will yield a great deal of revenue for the state and likewise they think it is favored by the population of the state," State Senator Jil Tracy said.
Michigan voters approved the plant for recreational purposes three months ago, becoming the first Midwestern state to legalize pot.
“I would like to see more people have access to this plant, just for overall wellness," said Chris Wildrick at Herbal Remedies.
Wildrick says Illinois has the toughest restrictions in the United States. for medical marijuana.
“Today, Illinois program is so specific," Wildrick explained. "You have to have a specific condition in order to qualify to get into the program.”
She believes the herb is a gateway to a better quality of life for many people.
“Many people are looking to get away from the toxic pharmaceuticals that we have been putting in our bodies all these years," Wildrick said. "We know that there is a safer natural alternative that is available to us.”
Governor Pritzker touts benefits for the state such as reducing opioid overdoes and generating tax revenue. He also says the criminalization of marijuana has never been and never will be enforced fairly and it’s time to bring that to an end.
According to a University of Illinois report, legalizing recreational marijuana would generate $1.6 billion in the state. That would result in $525 million in new tax revenues, 23,6000 new jobs and 2,600 new businesses.
Senator Tracy believes there are other ways to bring in revenue. She says it’s far too early to pass the bill.
“There is so much data out there that has not been properly analyzed," Tracy said. "If you talk to physician groups, medical experts and most importantly to me, law enforcement.”
“We will be having both the drivers who are drunk and the drivers who are high on our streets and to see how the numbers literally doubled in states like Colorado is really alarming," said Quincy Police Chief Rob Copley. "Unfortunately, there is no testing mechanism out there like the breathalyzer for alcohol out there right now.”
Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana five years ago. Since then, traffic fatalities surged from 78 deaths in 2012 to 147 deaths in 2016 according to the National Highway Safety Administration. According to the Colorado Department of Investigations, crime increased more than 10 percent since the legalization, while violent crime has increased more than 18 percent.
“It is not going to make our jobs easier," said Adams County States Attorney Gary Farha. "We are not going to simply not have cannabis cases anymore, we are just going to have larger cannabis cases and they will involve more money and law enforcement will still be busy investigating those cases.”
Farha says the plus side of the bill could expunge sentences for those incarcerated for minor marijuana offenses in Illinois.
“I think the whole criminal justice system is realizing the effect of felony convictions on people and their ability get jobs," Farha explained.
So now it’s a waiting game for both opponents.
“We’ll see an increase in minors using marijuana, not that some don’t now, but I think that it will be just like alcohol and tobacco and if it’s legal for the adults, there is going to be a lot of minors using it," Copley concluded.
As well as supporters.
“A lot of people would say it is a gateway drug to a better quality of life," Wildrick said.
Here’s what’s next - the bill is expected to come up by the end of the legislative session which concludes in May.