From the Desk of Senator Brian W. Stewart: “A Dance with Mary Jane Will Be Expensive”

Have you ever heard of Aesop’s Fable, The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs?  For those who don’t know, it goes something like this, “A farmer had a goose, and every day the goose laid a golden egg.  The farmer became impatient, because he had to wait each day for a new golden egg.  So he cut the goose open, hoping to get all the golden eggs at once.  But, after cutting her open, he found no golden eggs and his precious goose was dead.”  The moral of the story is, “Those who have plenty want more and so lose all they have.”

Supporters of marijuana legalization have been telling us we’re missing out on tax revenue and economic growth.  We were missing out on the goose who laid the golden egg, and we needed to legalize medical marijuana to save our budget.  In 2013, Illinois legalized medical marijuana.

We’re hearing the same call today.  Medical marijuana has not solved our budget problems.  Of course, the only possible solution proposed by the Governor and Springfield leadership is to legalize recreational marijuana.  After all, according to a poll conducted by Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, 2/3 of Illinois voters support marijuana legalization if “it is taxed and regulated like alcohol.”

An analysis from the Marijuana Policy Group at the University of Colorado estimates recreational marijuana could generate between $349 million and $699 million in excise and sales tax revenue annually for Illinois.  Governor Pritzker’s team estimated $170 million in licensing revenue for new marijuana growing operations and dispensaries in his budget address.  At the beginning of the session, the Chicago Machine proposed Senate Bill 7 (SB7), the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act.

There was discord over SB7, and it appeared that it wouldn’t pass.  In the waning hours of the session, the Senate gutted House Bill 1438; a bill originally titled the Pawnbroker Regulation Act, and replaced it with the contents of SB7 and rammed it through.

Here is why I voted “no.”  First, we’ve been told that cannabis is from the earth, and that it doesn’t do any harm.  That’s not the case.  Testimony from medical experts as well as research done at King’s College in London from medical studies conducted around the world tell us that smoking marijuana every day increases the chance of psychosis as much as five times.  The Associated Press reports, “people who smoked marijuana on a daily basis were three times more likely to be diagnosed with psychosis compared with people who never used the drug.  For those who used high-potency marijuana daily, the risk jumped to nearly five times.”

A study conducted at Duke University titled, “Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife” was published in 2012.  The study found that “persistent cannabis use over 20 years was associated with neuropsychological decline and greater decline was evident for more persistent users.”  The study determined 1) that users with pre-existing psychological impairment got worse if they smoked cannabis, 2) their impairment was global, 3) their decline was not associated with their education level, 4) persistent use interfered with everyday cognitive function, and 5) impairment persists 1 year after adolescent users stop using.

The bill is 610 pages long.  Not one of those pages has a restriction on THC levels in recreational cannabis.  Dr. Karen Kendall, an emergency room physician from Colorado, has testified that she now sees patients with marijuana induced psychosis every shift.  The Netherlands, which has long been hailed by legalization advocates, is imposing a THC level cap of 15 percent.

Second, we were never told how the state plans to deal with the cost of legalizing marijuana.  The bill and its sponsors have had years to gather data and help us understand what the costs would be and how we can meet them.  The bill doesn’t explain how.  Neither did its sponsors.

A study by the Centennial Institute in Colorado leads us to believe that we can definitely expect that we will have to pay a price for legalizing marijuana.  It found that “for every dollar gained in tax revenue, Coloradans spent approximately $4.50 to mitigate the effects of legalization.”

A heavy cannabis user costs Colorado $2,200 per year, a moderate user $1,250 per year, and a light user $650 per year.  The biggest contributors were healthcare costs, like the emergency room visits described by Dr. Kendall, and the economic and social impact from a significant increase in the high school dropout rate.

Third, the bill expunges cannabis convictions and provides low interest loans and reduced licensing fees for people who were convicted.  There’s more.  Those who have their convictions expunged go to the front of the line to apply for a growing operation or dispensary license. That’s right. Not only will convicts be forgiven by the state for the crimes they committed, they’ll be rewarded.

But wait!  There’s more.  Areas with high crime and unemployment will have priority to locate growing operations and dispensaries.  The bill does not differentiate between a person who was only arrested because of a cannabis offense, and a more hardened criminal who was arrested for multiple offenses and only served time for cannabis through a plea bargain.

We still don’t know if the reduced licenses and fees were included in the Governor’s $170 million dollar budget estimate.  We still don’t know how much money any of this will cost to set up, or how high the social costs will be.  Supporters have had months to gather this information and make a clear and comprehensive case for taxpayers to understand.  They didn’t. They want the money and either do not know what it will cost, or they don’t care.  We can do better.  We should do better.  And that’s why I voted “no.”

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, please visit my website at and use the form to send me an e-mail.

Brian Stewart

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