There’s a way for Illinois to potentially raise $100 million in new tax revenue which isn’t being publicly discussed by state lawmakers. That option is legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Four other states with much smaller populations than Illinois have already done so, and Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), predicts a legal pot program would reap large tax benefits for the state.
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“Somewhere around the $100 million mark, I think, is accurate, but it also depends on what type of taxing mechanism there is, what type of tax rate there would be on recreational cannabis here in Illinois.”
Linn makes that estimate based on the $44 million in marijuana tax revenue collected by Colorado in 2014, the first year of legalized recreational marijuana in the state.
Private conversations about legalizing marijuana are taking place among state lawmakers, according to Linn. He says those licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana in the state are also interested, especially if the delays in rolling out the pilot program threaten the return on their investment.
State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who sponsored the legislation which legalized medical cannabis in Illinois, feels it’s too early to be discussing this much larger change.
“If we can’t run a medical marijuana program properly, we certainly can’t run a recreational marijuana program,” Lang said. “I keep my options open on that issue, but I think it’s very premature to have that discussion.”
Linn thinks Lang is comparing apples and oranges.
“You’re talking about a product that is going specifically and only towards sick people who have some kind of compromised immune system, or they’re taking this for health beneficial purposes,” Linn said. “When we’re talking about a recreational cannabis market, we’re talking about allowing adults to grow this plant and consume this plant because they want to do this for their own purposes.”
While Lang says no legislator has come to him to talk about recreational cannabis, given the state’s financial condition, it should be included among other revenue options.
“Whether it’s taxation, gambling, the legalization of marijuana, certainly all things ought to be on the table for discussion,” Lang said.
Once lawmakers see the potential revenue from marijuana, Linn predicts they’ll warm up to the idea very quickly.
“This is Illinois politics and money talks and money goes a lot further than some of those other ideals or conceptual arguments like civil liberties and social justice,” Linn said.
The first step would likely be a push for a ballot initiative on marijuana, the same method used in all four states—Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska—which have legalized it for recreational use. Linn says there’s a “very good possibility” of Illinois legalizing marijuana within five years.