Debate over marijuana legalization in Illinois marches on

On Behalf of | Jun 9, 2018 | Drug Offenses

As more states vote to legalize marijuana, many other states feel pressured to address the issue – including Illinois. Though the state legalized medical marijuana back in 2015 (until 2020) and decriminalized marijuana possession under 10 grams in 2016, general recreational use remains illegal under both state and federal law.

That could change in the coming months, however.

This spring, the Illinois General Assembly voted to put the question of recreational pot use on the November 2018 ballot. Other recent bills passed by the Assembly include expanding the state’s medical marijuana program to combat the opioid crisis and to allow minors to take medically prescribed cannabis at school. The latter bill (HB 4870) is currently awaiting the governor’s signature.

With all these moves towards legalization, it may seem like the debate is settled, but it’s far from decided.

The arguments for legalization

Proponents argue that legalizing and regulating marijuana like alcohol offers the state much-needed tax revenue and other community benefits, like lowering incarceration rates. As mentioned above, it has also been touted as an effective way to combat opioid addiction in Illinois, which has claimed 11,000 lives in the state since 2008.

The arguments against legalization

However, critics argue that legalizing pot will do little to prevent illegal activity. Marijuana is often a “gateway drug” to more dangerous substances like cocaine or heroin. So, legalizing it may actually contribute to more crime, they say.

Furthermore, some law enforcement agencies have expressed concern that legalizing marijuana will put their K-9 units out of work. Drug-sniffing police dogs are trained to recognize marijuana from a very young age. Retraining the dogs would be impossible, experts say, and training new police dogs could cost the state millions. It costs about $4,000 to train one drug-sniffing dog. Depending on the breed, training and purpose, though, costs can climb as high as $16,000.

Marijuana still illegal across U.S.

With the question on the ballot for November, only time will tell which side of this debate prevails in Illinois. And in spite of the debate, it’s important to remember marijuana use for any purpose remains illegal under federal law. Regardless of what happens this November in Illinois, until Congress acts on this issue, citizens will need to assess their own risk tolerance for using marijuana.