How Legalizing Marijuana Would Impact McLean County Businesses | WGLT

How Legalizing Marijuana Would Impact McLean County Businesses

Dec 4, 2018

Republican state Sen. Jason Barickman said he will co-sponsor a 2019 measure to legalize cannabis.

At the McLean County Chamber of Commerce’s BN The Know event Tuesday, Barickman said he is willing to legalize recreational marijuana so long as there are safeguards in place, including a no-tolerance policy for use in the workplace.

The McLean County Chamber of Commerce is not taking a side on whether to legalize recreational marijuana use in the state, but the Chamber’s Government and Public Affairs Manager John Walsh said there would no doubt be an impact on the local economy.

A recent report by the nonprofit Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the University of Illinois Project for Middle Class Renewal estimated the state’s economy would see a $1 billion annual boost.

In fact, Barickman said the potential fiscal benefits are a major reason he is in support.

Since the study was based off Colorado numbers, Walsh said there is no certainty about the size of the boost, but that Illinois will certainly see a benefit.

“As Sen. Barickman said, where that money goes is still the big question,” Walsh said. “And I think there’s a lot of folks that are going to try and pull it all different ways.”

That same report estimated that legalization would create over 23,000 jobs and 2,600 new businesses.

“Anytime you can bring jobs to the community, that’s massive. As far as some of the issues, that Illinois struggles financially, there’s no doubt that cannabis being legalized could potentially help those numbers," he said.

Barickman said legalization is inevitable in Illinois, whether it is through the measure he co-sponsors or another. He said the best way to prepare for this is to use alcohol and tobacco regulations as a guideline.

A primary concern the Chamber hears, according to Walsh, is how workplaces will stay drug-free.

“In our conversations with Sen. Barickman and our other members of the state legislature, that’s one thing we’ve really been pushing,” Walsh said. “How can we ensure that there are protections for employers who want to maintain a drug-free workplace?”

He said another common concern is the struggle workplaces have finding employees able to pass drug tests.

“That just goes back to the ability for employers to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to stay drug free here.’ And the ability to drug test,”  said Walsh.

Marijuana can be traced in a person for weeks after inhaling, ingesting, or topically applying it to one’s body. That makes drug testing in a world with legalized recreational marijuana use unclear. Alcohol, in comparison, flushes out of the body hours after that last drink.

Walsh said addressing the issue of drug testing in the workplace will be fleshed out over time.

“The thing with possibly legalizing recreational marijuana is ... we don’t know what we don’t know yet. So as we work our way through the legislative process, we’ll have industry groups, we’ll have individuals, we’ll have representatives and senators bringing their own pieces to the table, and I’m sure that will be part of it," said Walsh.

Thirty-three states have legalized marijuana, to some degree, but the possession, sale, or use of cannabis remains illegal on the federal level.

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