It's time to "legalize it" in Illinois.
That was the message from a cohort of elected officials at a Monday press conference in downtown Chicago that called for the legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois.
“The main difference between the War on Drugs and Prohibition is that, after 40 years, this country still hasn’t acknowledged that the War on Drugs is a failure,” said Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
In what's perhaps the strongest show of support yet for legalizing recreational marijuana in Illinois, Fritchey was joined by State Representatives Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago) and Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) in calling for a task force to address all aspects of legalizing recreational marijuana, WGN reports.
“We can find a way to do this and look at what other states have done, and cherry pick the good ideas, dismiss the bad ideas and find a workable policy that recognizes what we’re doing now simply isn’t right,” Fritchey said, according to WBEZ.
Facing empty state coffers and a losing war on drugs, some elected officials are viewing marijuana as a lucrative option to boost tax revenue. In Colorado, where recreational marijuana was recently legalized, the state netted roughly $2 million in tax revenue from licensed dispensaries during the first month of sales alone.
Illinois is still in the midst of crafting rules for its medical marijuana pilot program, set to become the strictest in the nation. Fritchey and others acknowledged the statewide legalization of weed for recreational use is still a ways off, but believe decriminalization is the first step.
Beyond tax revenue, Fritchey said decriminalization could soothe other issues, like the racial disparity in drug enforcement efforts and arrests.
“You’ll see people getting swept off the streets on a daily basis on the South Side and the West Side," Fritchey said, according to the Sun-Times, referencing predominantly black and Latino areas of Chicago. "You don’t see kids getting arrested in Lincoln Park."
The pro-legalization lawmakers aren't without their opponents, including the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. At the conference, the group said legalizing recreational weed could be particularly dangerous for teens and motorists who may drive under the influence.
Cassidy told the Sun-Times “the sky won’t fall" if marijuana is decriminalized.
"Public opinion moves much more quickly than legislators’ [opinions]," Cassidy said.