Illinois Turns To Drugs To Save Its Economy

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Lawmakers are turning to marijuana legalization to pull Illinois out of a fiscal death spiral, sparked by years of failed budget talks that resulted in a multi-billion dollar deficit.

The legislature plans to tackle marijuana legalization during its next session in January as a way of boosting government revenue to help pay down its crippling deficit. Officials in Illinois managed to pass the state’s first budget in more than two years July 6, overriding a veto from Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, reports WGN Radio.

The previous budget impasses helped the state rack up nearly $15 billion in unpaid bills and resulted in a June statement from S&P Global Ratings threatening to downgrade the state’s credit rating to “junk” status.

Democratic state Sens. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy introduced legislation in March to legalize marijuana as a way to rapidly boost tax revenue. The proposal was held from a vote during this year’s regular legislative session to give lawmakers a chance to review the details.

Steans and Cassidy expect to debate a marijuana package in January during the next legislative session.

Proponents of legalization claim it will pull in more than half a million dollars annually and make the state a trailblazer on pot policy in the Midwest.

The March proposal from Steans and Cassidy would allow anyone 21 years and older to purchase, grow and posses up to an ounce of marijuana and places a $50-per-ounce wholesale tax on the plant.

“We estimate that doing it this way, can generate revenues up to $350-million and $700-million, so it’d be given the way we are right now in the state, we think talking about this revenue potential is timely and important,” Steans told CBS Chicago in April.

Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., where it is also legal for recreational use. Voters in Maine, Nevada, California and Massachusetts all approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use on Election Day. Nearly 20 percent of Americans now have access to legal pot.

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Steve Birr