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Illinois Is Probably the Next State to Legalize Marijuana

Illinois Is Probably the Next State to Legalize Marijuana
PHOTO Andrew E. Larsen

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Illinois Is Probably the Next State to Legalize Marijuana

Illinois, with its cannabis-friendly governor, is definitely the current green rush state.

Out in Iowa, county sheriffs and police are anxious, giving interviews to local media about an inevitable problem they see coming their way sooner, rather than later. They are discussing the possibility of recreational marijuana legalization coming to nearby Illinois.

In Illinois, medical-marijuana companies are raising gobs of cash, going public on Canadian stock markets, and creating so much dealflow you could drown in it. Whether or not recreational marijuana legalization comes today, tomorrow, or a year from now, marijuana entrepreneurs and investors are moving fast.

Illinois’s next governor will be Democrat J.B. Pritzker. Early in his campaign, Pritzker vowed to make legalizing recreational marijuana a priority if elected (in addition to raising taxes on wealthy people — such as Pritzker himself, a heredity billionaire whose family has a major stake in the Hyatt chain of hotels).

In a press conference the day after his election, Pritzker told reporters he’d like to do so “nearly right away.” He can’t, laws are made by lawmakers, and the state Legislature isn’t 100 percent sold on the idea, as the Chicago Tribune reported, but it could happen as quickly as May, supporters told the newspaper.

This means Illinois is now the safer bet to become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana and the second to do so via the “normal” lawmaking process rather than a voter initiative.

“I suspect it’s a done deal,” said Pat Brady, a former chairman of the Illinois Republican Party who has since found a second career in — what else? — consulting and lobbying for marijuana companies. “People see it as a new source of revenue,” he told the Tribune. “The true battle will be over who gets their cut of taxwise.”

As usual, the arguments in favor are more economic than social justice. A recent study pegged the economic impact of legalization in Illinois as a cool $1 billion, with 24,000 jobs and $525 million in tax revenue — no tax-benefits package required. While it’s also very true police would police less, there’s no guarantee that the final law would also include some increasingly popular anti-incarceration measures like amnesty for current prisoners and probationers doing time for cannabis and those with marijuana-related crimes on their records.

It would seem that legalization has been so successful that even centrist Democrats with presidential ambitions are offering Pritzker free advice on how to legalize properly. (And Republicans can see the future: This summer, outgoing Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, whom Pritzker defeated, signed legislation allowing Illinois residents with opiate prescriptions near-automatic approval to use cannabis.)

As the Tribune reported, there’s some discord: While urban Chicago and surrounding environs appear keen to legalize, Republicans and some representatives from more rural areas downstate aren’t quite on board — to say the least. “I will never support legalization,” House Republican leader Jim Durkin told the newspaper.

He may not need to, not with a Democratic Party-controlled Legislature. And even without Durkin, companies like Cresco Labs are having no issue raising $100 million in funding, a play that’s partly speculative (based on Pritzker’s election, a bet that, if not paying off, has at least landed properly) and partly based in the potential medical marijuana has by itself.

Growth in the recreational market must have been on the minds of MedMen when the Los Angeles-based marijuana dispensary chain plunked down $682 million to buy Chicago area-based PharmaCann.

There should be at least one word of caution. We’ve seen this story before — in New Jersey, where Gov. Phil Murphy was also elected after promising to legalize marijuana. So far, neither he nor the state Legislature there has done so, a delay caused mostly by a dispute over how marijuana should be taxed.

Not that delays or slow-to-materialize promises have ever meant much to the marijuana industry, which — just like police in Iowa — are planning on legalization coming to Illinois in the near future.

TELL US, do you have recreational cannabis where you live?

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