Illinois lawmakers introduce bills to legalize marijuana(Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Illinois lawmakers introduced bills in the State House and Senate on Wednesday that would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older.

The Senate bill, SB 316, sponsored by Democrat Heather Steans of Chicago, and an identical House bill, HB 2353, introduced by Democrat Kelly Cassidy of Chicago, would both make it legal for adults 21 and older to purchase, possess and grow limited quantities of marijuana for recreational use.

Both measures call for Illinois to enact a system of regulated marijuana sales, cultivation, processing and testing. The state would be tasked with licensing and regulating cannabis businesses and creating and enforcing a system of health and safety regulations. Testing and labeling would be mandatory for all cannabis products.  

“Marijuana prohibition is a quagmire that creates far more problems than it prevents,” Cassidy said, according to Capitol Fax. “Several states have adopted sensible alternatives to prohibition, and it is time for Illinois to develop its own exit strategy. Regulating marijuana and removing the criminal element from marijuana production and sales will make our communities safer.”

Eight states have passed laws legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use, and states with operational cannabis retail markets, like Colorado, Washington and Oregon, have already seen significant financial gains from sales and excise taxes associated with legal pot.

Under the proposed measures, recreational marijuana would be taxed at $50 per wholesale ounce, and retail sales would be taxed at Illinois’ standard 6.25 percent sales tax, according to the Chicago Tribune. Half of the revenue from legal marijuana would go to the state’s general fund and the other half would go to public schools and drug abuse treatment and prevention programs.

Marijuana Policy Project estimates legal marijuana sales in Illinois could generate between $350 million and $700 million in annual tax revenue, the Chicago Reader reports.

“Right now, all the money being spent on marijuana is going into the pockets of criminals and cartels,” Steans said in a statement. “In a regulated system, the money would go into the cash registers of licensed, taxpaying businesses. It would generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year in new revenue for our state. Prohibition is a financial hole in the ground, and we should stop throwing taxpayer dollars into it.”

Illinois passed a medical marijuana pilot program in 2013, and medical marijuana dispensaries began selling cannabis to patients in 2015. The new measures would allow existing dispensaries to sell recreational cannabis to adults for one year, then state-licensed, recreational-only retailers would be allowed to open up shop as well.

Co-sponsors Steans and Cassidy say they probably won’t call the bills for a vote until next year, but they plan to hold hearings to get feedback from colleagues and gauge whether or not some version of these bills can get enough support to pass next year, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner approved statewide marijuana decriminalization in 2016, but it’s not yet clear if the Republican would be open to legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use. Rauner is seeking re-election in 2018.

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