As lawmakers prepare to reveal and possibly pass a measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use, some want to slow the effort down.
Earlier this month, Senate Bill 7 to legalize pot for recreational use without any substantive policy changes passed out of committee, setting up lawmakers for a quick gut and replace. That could happen as early as next week when they return from Spring Break.
Luke Niforatos from Smart Approaches to Marijuana has been lobbying lawmakers to slow the process down.
“What is the sense in rushing?” Niforatos said. “We really need to look at these lessons learned from other states, watch what they do, and not rush into opening this up for a whole commercial market right now.”
He cited concerns such as increased marijuana potency, possible access to children, and other issues, such as more DUIs and hospitalizations from cannabis.
State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, who’s been crafting the bill behind the scenes with various stakeholders, said lawmakers aren't rushing anything.
“It’s a big policy change, and it merits a lot of input and a lot of debate, which is what we’ve been doing,” Steans said.
While the eventual tax revenue expected is in between $350 million to $700 million, Steans said her real focus is on creating a diverse industry and reversing the negative impacts of the war on drugs.
Steans said Illinois is poised to do it right.
“We have been a model in our medical program and I think we have the real opportunity to be the model in the adult use program too in terms of tightly regulated, but also … being a model for how diverse we can make the industry,” Steans said.
Other supporters of legalizing pot for recreational have said it’s more about criminal justice than tax revenue.
Niforatos said criminal justice issues can be dealt with outside of legalization.
“Somebody shouldn't go to jail for a joint in their pocket,” Niforatos said. “We can address that. Expungement, we can address that. There are a lot of other concerns we can address without legalizing and commercializing a whole new market.”
Niforatos also said when it comes to individual liberty, people should be able to do what they want in their own home. But the drug is getting more potent and that has social costs ranging from youth use and increased public safety concerns, he said.
Lawmakers are back next week. They could gut and replace a Senate bill that’s already passed committee. If it’s passed in both chambers and signed by the governor, the first legal sales could happen as early as January 2020.