Study examines benefits of legalizing marijuana

By Emily Dao, Staff Writer

J.B. Pritzker’s gubernatorial win foreshadows the legalization of marijuana, a piece of legislation that found legalization would greatly boost Illinois’ economy according to a study at the University.

The study showed  decriminalizing recreational use of marijuana would create around 2,600 new businesses and 24,000 jobs, and would generate $525 million in annual tax revenue.

“This is an economic opportunity of the state, while saving money for taxpayers,” said Frank Manzo, policy director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. “Legalizing marijuana would create an entirely new sector in the economy that’s already open for business in 10 other states.”

The study also found that legalizing marijuana would save Illinois $18 million annually on law enforcement.

Manzo said the money saved by reducing incarceration and policing costs, as well as legal fees, could be devoted to areas such as infrastructure and education.

Robert Bruno, professor in the School of Labor and Employment Relations and director of the Labor Education Program, said decriminalizing marijuana would come with social benefits as well.

Although both marijuana and alcohol are drugs, Bruno said there is more stigma around marijuana because marijuana is illegal. He said decriminalizing the drug would reduce negative stigma around casual marijuana users.

Manzo said social costs of legalization are often inflated, as research shows legalizing marijuana would not dramatically increase or decrease use.

Rather, the team found that legalizing marijuana would actually help curtail opioid addiction, which claimed 1,500 lives in 2016 alone due to opioid-related overdoses in Illinois. According to the study, research showed that legalization has been found to decrease opioid addiction by about 33 percent.

“The use of medical marijuana has been found to reduce opioid addiction. An opioid addiction is really a serious problem, unlike marijuana,” Bruno said. “Opioids are legal, and people over-prescribe and overuse. They destroy people’s lives and are an enormous cost to the health care system. Medical marijuana could actually help reduce that addiction.”

In the last Champaign City Council meeting, council members voted to have a second session to consider changing the minimum fine for possessing ten grams or less of marijuana from $350 to $50.

“The people who have (run) from the police because they had a small personal amount of marijuana on them is why I think this (minimum fee) needs to change in our city,” said councilwoman Clarissa Fourman in an email. “Those small instances turn into fleeing and resisting arrest charges when it could be a simple $50 ticket. The people whose lives have been impacted by prison sentences and criminal records show it’s time to make it legal everywhere and focus on legal drugs that are killing people.”

A 2017 study found 74 percent of Illinois voters supported legalizing marijuana and 66 percent supported legalizing recreational use if it is taxed and regulated like alcohol.

The study, conducted by the Project for Middle Class Renewal and the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, obtained data from the Department of Revenue in Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational usage of marijuana.

“We were able to get a lot of tax data about sales and employment information from the Department of Revenue in Colorado,” Bruno said. “We took a look at principally what happened in Colorado and used the Colorado experience to set up our assessment and adapt it to Illinois to come up with the estimate.”

Bruno said the research team applied the information to Illinois by using an economic modeling software program to run simulations and project the effects that the legalization of recreational marijuana would have on employment and other factors.

“Colorado and Washington, two states (that)  were first to legalize marijuana, are both among the top 10  states that people are moving to. Meanwhile, there are people leaving Illinois,” Manzo said. “The people have spoken and said they’re perfectly fine with moving to states that legalized marijuana.”

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