As Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker continues the push for Illinois to join ten other U.S. states in legalizing recreational marijuana, Illinois State University criminal justice professor Ralph Weisheit believes legalizing pot might take longer than some may anticipate.
“It will be delayed because even people who agree with the idea of legalizing may have differences among others who want to legalize when it comes to the details,” Weisheit said. “For example, are you going to have edibles with a certain level of THC which you can’t sell as an edible? Is there some amount that you cannot store in your house?”
A majority of states that have legalized recreational marijuana have a law which forbids public consumption.
“Well, what about places comparable to a hookah bar such as a marijuana bar? Would that be considered public consumption? In some states it is and in others it is not,” he said.
“The state can make a law but in pretty much in every jurisdiction where they’ve legalized recreational use, they’ve allowed those areas to make their own rules.”
Marijuana is currently considered a Schedule 1 drug under the Federal Controlled Substance Act of 1970. Even if the marijuana was legalized for recreational use, it will still be illegal to be under the influence or smoke on ISU’s campus since the university receives federal funding.
“Any college that receives federal funds would be foolish to allow it and would risk losing that federal funding. Now in reality it’s not likely those funds would be taken away but the fact that it’s a reality should make universities think twice,” Weisheit said.
He continued to say that whatever law comes into place will be initially based off of existing medical marijuana cultivation and distribution that is allowed.
“The question is what is going to be the rules about growing operations and retail operations in terms of things such as what does it cost to set up a retail operation in terms of fees you have to pay to the state.”
A report published by the nonprofit Illinois Economic Policy Institute stated Illinois could generate $500 billion in tax revenues, create more than 23,000 jobs and bump the state’s economy by $1 billion a year.
“That is going to a big issue because for medical, these companies have had to put up millions of dollars. They’re not going to be happy allowing people to come in with just a minor investment,” Weisheit said.
Weisheit added he believes there are three reasons that it will be legalized recreationally in Illinois.
“I think it’s going to happen because for one, a majority of residents of Illinois want it to happen and secondly, there’s a financial incentive for the state to draw in money,” he said.
According to a study conducted by the Colorado cannabis consulting firm Freedman & Koski, the Illinois marijuana market could be between $1.69 billion and $2.58 billion.
“I also think there are going to be some people who support it because if you buy marijuana on an illegal market, you don’t know what it’s been contaminated with,” Weisheit said.
Weisheit added he doesn’t believe it will have a large impact on criminal activity but rather the number of people arrested for possession of cannabis.
“There are other questions being raised by people who vote on this, [the lawmakers] what kind of breaks do we give people who have already been convicted, do we wipe their records clear and if so, is it only for people arrested for certain amounts?” he said. “These are the kinds of details that are going to be hashed out.
“The member of the Senate and member of the House in Illinois who are going to be proposing that bill said they’d like to see it take effect by the calendar year,” he said.
“I’d be surprised if things moved that quickly. I think the law might be passed but you have to realize that once the law is passed, marijuana will not be immediately available. Now you have to have the rules laid out for growing operations, retail operations and I think it will take a while to get those rules laid out,” Weisheit added.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of Americans, including 74 percent of millennials said they supported legalizing marijuana.