Illinois lawmakers discuss legal marijuana

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CHICAGO, Ill (WAND)- Should Illinois legalize marijuana? That was the topic of discussion at joint House and Senate committee Tuesday. 

The committee lasted around four hours and featured many speakers for and against legalizing marijuana in Illinois. One of the people testifying in support of the measure was television host Rick Steves. Steves is a strong supporter of recreational marijuana and travels to states to speak in support of legalization. 

"I'm not pro-drugs - I'm pro-civil liberties and anti-prohibition. Marijuana is here to stay. We can either keep building more prisons or figure out a better solution. I think it's obvious what the solution is, and it's happening around the country as it did in my home state of Washington. We need to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults." he said. 

Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago)  have proposed a measure that would allow adults 21 years or older to purchase up to 28 grams of marijuana. They estimate the state could see between $350 to $700 million in tax revenue. The sponsors say that by having the state regulate the sale of the substance, it takes out the black market. 

"Those folks who are turning this on street corners are not concerned about the age of the person who is buying, they are not concerned about the quality, the integrity of the substance or product that they are selling. Going toward legalization simply has shown in other states to improve the quality of the product, reduce the black market and then you can tax and regulate it." said Senator Steans. 

"It's here today, and it's going to be here tomorrow. What we need to do is take that black market down and turn it into a highly regulated and highly taxed legal market so we can gain credibility and focus on te real risk to people in our society which is hard drug use." said Steves.

Supporters of the measure say prohibition simply doesn't work, and people are still going to use the substance. 

"It's estimated in Illinois that 750,000 people use cannabis right now, yet we only have 2,400 with medical cannabis cards. That's only about three percent of the estimated population, so 97 percent of cannabis use is on the black market." said Senator Steans.

Opponents of legalization fear use would increase if the product were more readily available. However, supporters say that in states where pot is legal, that hasn't been the case. 

"We know what happens when you legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. Use does not go up, teen use does not go up, DUI's don't go up, crime does not go up. The only thing that goes up is tax revenue." said Steves. 

Opponents of the measure fear that if marijuana were legal the amount of people driving under the influence of the drug would increase. The bill would treat anyone driving under the influence of marijuana the same way as someone driving while drunk. 

The two bills have been drafted and filed however, the bills have not been called for a vote. Several committees have been held to hear various aspects about legalizing marijuana and changes to the legislation could be introduced when lawmakers are back in session in 2018. 

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