SPRINGFIELD — Legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use spurred all kinds of economic activity in other states and Illinois lawmakers are considering the benefits in the Land of Lincoln.
Colorado state Rep. Dan Pabon testified in Illinois Tuesday that tax revenue from legalization won’t fix Illinois’ budget woes, but it will generate economic activity.
“It is a very vibrant entrepreneurial setting I think in Colorado and is reflective of the interest we have in developing not necessarily cannabis, but new business opportunities in our state,” Pabon said.
Pabon, a Democrat, said legal weed isn’t making Coloradans lazy. The state has a 2.3 percent unemployment rate as opposed to Illinois’ 4.9 percent.
Marijuana Policy Group’s Adam Orens said legalization also spurs on the “buy local” movement.
“What you saw was that this had spillover economic effects on more than about 90 percent of the other industries in [Colorado],” Orens said.
Among the many industries helped by legal cannabis in Colorado were security, greenhouse technology, research, banking, tourism and even culinary, the advocates said.
Even without recreational cannabis being legal in Illinois, one publisher said she’s already created jobs and investment with the magazine “Kitchen Toke,” which focuses on cannabis edibles.
Joline Rivera publishes “Kitchen Toke” magazine out of Chicago. She said the magazine has hired up to 40 writers and graphic designers, “all of which are being employed and paid without even touching the plant,” Rivera said.
Advocates also said the best way to destroy black markets is to have free markets, and tax rates play a big role.
“The way to get rid of the black market is to allow the free market to take over,” Pabon said.
However, Pabon said taxes on marijuana should be reasonable so consumers stay away from the black market.
“We didn’t want to disincentivize folks from moving into the regulated market and we also didn’t want to send mixed signals,” Pabon said. “Yes, this is legal but we don’t want you to buy it because our tax rate is too high.”
Colorado taxes cannabis at 30 percent in combined sales and excise taxes. Illinois’ proposed bill would have a $50 an ounce tax with a state sales tax of 6.25 percent, but sponsors of legalization expect the bill to be amended early next year.
While Tuesday’s hearing was focused on the economic impacts of legalization, popular travel host Rick Steves appeared at the hearing and said among his world travels and his efforts to get cannabis legalized in other U.S. states, he has seen the positive social benefits.
“There’s less crime, there’s less people in jail, and there’s money now earmarked for education,” Steves said. Other than that, he said there’s not much more noticeable differences between legal and illegal cannabis jurisdictions.
Opponents of legalization also appeared at Tuesday’s hearing. Some said cannabis is a gateway drug, and that legalization will cause more problems with addiction and youth use. And some said there were fears of other possible negative social consequences.
Illinois state Sen. Dan McConchie said the state is jumping the gun. He questioned the data of crime rates decreasing and economic activity increasing with legalization.