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New Report Says Legal Pot Will Earn Illinois Millions In New Taxes

Marijuana plants
Teresa Crawford
Illinois lawmakers are again trying to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana but face strong opposition from law enforcement and anti-pot advocates.

A new report suggests Illinois state and local governments would take in a combined $525 million in new tax revenue if the state legalizes recreational marijuana.

The report was published by the non-profit Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the University of Illinois’ Project for Middle Class Renewal three days after the midterm elections. Incoming governor J.B. Pritzker supports legalizing recreational marijuana.

The report estimates that legalizing recreational marijuana would boost the state’s economy by $1 billion annually and create more than 23,000 jobs and 2,600 businesses. Robert Bruno, a co-author of the report, said the estimates were based off of sales figures from Colorado’s recreational pot market.

The report also notes that the state is in line to save money on incarceration, court and policing costs related to marijuana enforcement. Illinois decriminalized low-level possession of marijuana in 2016, but Bruno says full decriminalization in the form of legalized recreational marijuana would still save the state about $18 million on criminal-justice-related costs.  

“So there’s lots of benefits for lots of people, and that includes people who would work in this industry or would be the beneficiary of an increase in funding from the state of Illinois,” he said.

The report also responds to common concerns about legalized cannabis, including fears that it will increase car crashes due to motorists under the influence of marijuana, lead to increased use of other drugs and more workplace injuries, increased employee absenteeism as well as higher rates of homelessness.

The report cites research that failed to find a connection between legalization and car accidents in Colorado, as well a lack of evidence that supports assertions that legal weed would lead to more injuries on the job, homelessness and worker absences.

Bruno said one of the most profound takeaways from the research is marijuana’s relationship with opioid use. The report cites a University of Kentucky and Emory University studythat found that opioid deaths dropped by roughly 33 percent in 13 states after medical marijuana was legalized. Another study from the Minnesota Department of Health concluded that about two-thirds of patients using opiates to treat pain reduced or eliminated their opioid use after being treated with medical cannabis.

“Clearly there’s some kind of substitution that occurs. That strikes us, whether it’s causation or correlation there is some interactive effect that is helping to reduce the opioid use,” Bruno said.

The report also states that marijuana use has not been shown to increase after legalization. Bruno points to what’s happened in other states that have legalized.

“They have not had this experience. This is not what they have found has occurred. So we don’t have any reason to think it would occur in Illinois,” he said.

The report notes that any new revenue generated from a legal recreational pot market would be “modest,” but the new money would improve the state’s fiscal situation and provide funding for infrastructure and education in addition to reduced criminal justice costs.

The report concludes by saying that the state should “legalize, regulate, and tax recreational marijuana” because the projected benefits outweigh any potential social costs.

You can read the full report here

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Lee V. Gaines is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Chicago Magazine, Crain’s, the Pacific Standard and the Marshall Project. She also recently completed a fellowship with Chicago non-profit journalism lab, City Bureau.