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Illinoisans appear high on idea of legalizing marijuana


By Caitlin Nordahl | Apr 9, 2017

Nearly 70 percent of Illinoisans support legalizing the recreational use of marijuana as long as it is regulated and taxed, a recent poll shows, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.

The survey follows close on the heels of an amendment submitted by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) that would legalize marijuana use, sale and production by anyone over 21 years old. The amendment would place restrictions on it that are similar to those on alcohol.

According to the survey by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, more than half of Illinoisans of all ages support legalization.

“People evolve a lot more quickly than politicians,” Cassidy said on Illinois Watchdog Radio. “When we were working on the civil enforcement bill … there was some polling done in some pretty conservative districts, and there wasn’t a single district that we looked at that was under 50 percent for decriminalization, and none that were opposed to full legalization.”

Marijuana possession of 10 grams or less was decriminalized in July 2016, replacing the previous misdemeanor charge with a fine of $100 to $200. Today, according to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll, Illinoisans support a growing national trend to go further. 

The poll showed that 74 percent of Chicagoans and 70 percent of suburban Chicagoans support recreational legalization. That support dropped significantly downstate but kept a majority, with 54 percent voicing approval.

Support for legalization was inversely proportional to the age of the respondent. Eighty-three percent of those under age 35 approved, followed by 77 percent of respondents between the ages of 35 and 50, 69 percent of those between 51 and 65, and 51 percent – still a majority – of those 66 and older voicing support.

“The people we represent understand that the sky isn’t going to fall – that prohibition hasn’t worked, it doesn’t work, and that this is an opportunity to bring in much-needed revenue, make our communities safer and create jobs in a lot of communities that are desperate for them,” Cassidy said on Illinois Watchdog Radio.

The proposed amendment bars public smoking of marijuana and requires distributors to ensure that their buyers are over 21. Those cultivating marijuana could not do so in public view and would need to ensure that people under the age of 21 are not able to access the plants. Possession would be limited to 28 grams for state residents and 14 grams for nonresidents, and using marijuana while driving would be illegal. The amendment would not affect employers’ ability to set marijuana use policies for their organizations.

The amendment also stipulates a tax rate of $50 per ounce wholesale, with the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax applied to retail sales. According to Marijuana Policy Project estimates, legalization could lead to revenue increases of $350 million to $700 million for Illinois.

“Our revenue situation is pretty dire, and we are missing an opportunity here to sort of do a win-win-win-win: Our communities will be safer, we will be developing jobs in our communities as this industry is allowed to grow, and we will be bringing in desperately needed revenue,” Cassidy said.

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Illinois Representative Kelly M. Cassidy (D-14th)

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