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The Recreational Marijuana Legalization Debate In Illinois


Some lawmakers say legalizing recreational marijuana should be on the horizon for Illinois. But they admit there are still details to work out. 

Heather Steans, a Democratic State Senator from Chicago, introduced a measure earlier this year that would allow those 21 and older to possess, grow and purchase limited amounts of the drug. She says it would garner at least $350 million in tax revenue annually. Steans says she'd want the gains to go toward regulatory oversight, plus, "Substance abuse treatment and prevention ... certainly a public awareness campaign against illegal drug use. Finally, I think education makes a lot of sense."

Of course the overall idea has many opponents, like the conservative Illinois Family Institute. Executive director, David Smith, says the assertion that legalization would be worth potential profits, "Is farfetched, to say the least." Smith says recreational marijuana use is a threat to public health and safety. "We really don't think it's a good idea to have or encourage a more inebriated society - we don't need more inebriated, intoxicated citizens on the street," he says. Steans says she'll be gathering insight to re-draft the measure and introduce it again in the year ahead.

It's unclear if Republican Governor Bruce Rauner would support the idea, though he has refused certain attempts to expand the medical marijuana pilot program in the state. He did however sign a measure in in 2016 that decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana or less. 

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Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
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Rachel Otwell of the Illinois Times is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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