After the 2012 election, which saw Colorado become the first state to legalize marijuana, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said he probably would have reversed the vote if he had a magic wand.
But with the perspective of a few years post-legalization, today he says he’d put that wand “back in the drawer.”
“I’m not quite there to say this is a great success, but the old system was awful,” Hickenlooper said at a forum hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago on Wednesday.
What’s more, “the things that we most feared—a spike in teenage consumption, a spike in overall consumption, people driving while high—we haven’t seen them,” he said.
“We had a little increase in teenage consumption, but then it went down. We do think that some of the teenage consumers are using it a little more frequently than they were five years ago before legalization. We have in many ways seen no demographic where there’s an increase in consumption, with one exception: senior citizens. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.”
Hickenlooper, who’s been floated as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, described the challenges his administration faced when Colorado voters approved an adult-use legalization measure. Elected officials and advisors were opposed to it, he said, and plus, “it’s no fun to be in conflict with federal law.”
But he pushed forward with implementation, recruiting the “smartest people” he could find to figure out the best approach to regulation and taxation. And Illinois, which recently elected pro-legalization J.B. Pritzker for governor, will likely be better off if they pursue reform because they can learn from the successes and failures of Colorado’s system, Hickenlooper said.
“Ultimately, I haven’t come to a final conclusion yet, but I think it’s looking like this is going to be—for all of the flaws and challenges we have—a better system than what we had. You guys are going to benefit, I think, having let us make a bunch of the mistakes and deal with it, I think you’re going to be able to have a much better system if indeed that is the direction that the state wants to go.”
Asked what advice he’d give to Pritzker if Illinois does elect to fully legalize cannabis, Hickenlooper offered three tips: 1) don’t overtax marijuana, or else the illicit marketplace will persist, 2) get data from law enforcement on the presence of cannabis metabolites in the blood after highway fatalities to establish “good baselines” for comparison and 3) set limits on THC concentrations in edibles.
“What they’re selling now, they tell me it’s 10-to-12 times more intense than what allegedly I smoked in high school,” Hickenlooper said, pausing before conceding, “I smoked pot in high school and I inhaled, but it was a fraction of the intensity of what these kids are getting now.”
Voters in several states elected new governors who support marijuana legalization last week. Now, top legislative leaders in two of those states—Illinois and New Mexico—say they are optimistic about the chances of getting bills to end cannabis prohibition to the desks of those new state chief executives after they take office next year.
“[M]y guess is if it were to make it to the floor, it would probably pass the House,” Rep. Brian Egolf (D), the speaker of New Mexico’s House of Representatives told the Santa Fe Reporter in an article published on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D) supports Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker’s plans to push for marijuana legalization, which he campaigned heavily on.
Madigan had previously been noncommittal on ending cannabis prohibition, saying earlier this year that he hadn’t “come to a final decision” on where he stood on the issue. His backing will be key to getting a legalization bill to Pritzker to sign.
In New Mexico, the prospect of legalization got a huge boost with the election of Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) as the state’s next governor.
But while Egolf, the speaker, is optimistic about House passage, the state’s Senate has historically been less open to cannabis reform. That said, even some lawmakers in that chamber who personally oppose marijuana use now seem ready to back legalization.
“I don’t want recreational marijuana, but I understand the political reality that it is here,” Sen. Mark Moores (R) told the Santa Fe Reporter. “I want to make sure we have a system that is extremely well-regulated, and the ability to take those revenues and mitigate some of those negative social impacts that marijuana has.”
Senate Majority Floor Leader Peter Wirth (D) is also hopeful about getting a legalization bill to Lujan Grisham in 2019, saying that it would “lead to huge economic development.”
Illinois voters just elected a new governor who supports legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana—and a new study indicates that the state would reap significant economic benefits if lawmakers follow through in 2019.
According to an analysis from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois, fully legalizing cannabis would bring in 24,000 jobs, more than $500 million in tax revenue and infuse about $1 billion into the state economy overall by 2020.
Legalization would also reduce law enforcement costs to the tune of about $18 million per year, the study found.
“Assuming similar usage and taxation rates as Colorado, we’d expect marijuana legalization to have more than twice the financial impact in Illinois because of our state’s comparatively larger size,” study co-author Frank Manzo IV said in a press release. “At a practical level, this means tens of thousands of new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenues that can be invested in vital infrastructure, education, and public safety programs that have been most impacted by recent budget pressures in Springfield.”
Via the ILEPI.
The study also took into consideration claims opponents of legalization commonly make—but found they didn’t hold water. Cannabis consumption doesn’t increase post-legalization, opioid usage actually declines, there’s no spike in traffic fatalities and workplace accidents and absenteeism don’t change, the researchers affirmed.
“The claims of legalization opponents have been studied exhaustively in states that have begun to tax and regulate legal marijuana,” study co-author and University of Illinois Professor Robert Bruno said. “While these policies have consistently brought a myriad of benefits to taxpayers and the economy, the research has failed to find any correlation between legalization and increased usage or other social costs.”
Via the ILEPI.
The analysis comes at a convenient time, as advocates eye the Midwest as another potential frontier for marijuana reform. Illinois governor-elect, J.B. Pritzker (D), touted the economic benefits of legalization in a recent interview, telling Fox 32 News that it’s one revenue-generating policy that can be pursued “right away.”
Lawmakers in the state seem positioned to make good on that proposal, though the exact timing remains unclear. Sponsors of a legalization bill are planning to reintroduce legalization legislation in January, with hopes of getting it passed before the end of the legislative session in May. How the bill approaches taxation will likely be a major factor that lawmakers consider when the time comes.
With the gubernatorial wins of Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, J. B. Pritzker in Illinois, Tim Walz in Minnesota and Tony Evers in Wisconsin, the stage seems to be set for a Midwestern green revolution. Michigan became the first state in the region to legalize for adult use, but the overall political landscape bodes well for cannabis reform efforts with the new governors-elect taking their seats soon.
Illinois and Minnesota already have exiting medical cannabis systems in place. Pritzker said on Wednesday that he thinks his state should consider adult-use legalization “right away,” noting the economic benefits. A system designed to expunge the criminal records of individuals who’ve been convicted of cannabis-related offenses is also on the table for Illinois, he said.
Similarly, Whitmer said that Michigan voters have made clear that “no one should bear a lifelong record” for an offense that has since been legalized. She will be “looking into” policies to ameliorate that problem.
“A green Midwest would say [to the federal government] what we’re seeing in so many other arenas,” Jolene Forman, a staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “Marijuana is not an exclusively a leftist or libertarian issue. It’s really an issue that the American public wants to see.”
Historically, the Midwest hasn’t been regarded as a region especially friendly toward progressive cannabis policies. But that’s rapidly changing, and the results of the midterm election could signal a paradigm shift that’s been a long time coming, Forman said.
For example, Walz, in Minnesota, said he wants to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.”
In Wisconsin, voters in 16 counties and two cities embraced various marijuana reform proposals in the form of non-binding advisory questions on Tuesday. Outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walter (R) opposed full legalization and called marijuana a “gateway drug” as recently as May, but governor-elect Evers has said he wants to put a legalization question on the statewide ballot for voters to weigh in on and would support ending prohibition if they approved it. In the meantime he wants to enact decriminalization and legalize medical cannabis.
US states that fully legalized cannabis are benefiting from reduced crime rates and a huge upswing in economic activity. Case in point: the legal cannabis industry in Colorado brought in a whopping $2.4 billion and 18,015 full-time jobs to the state in 2015 (according to a report from the Marijuana Policy Group).
In fact, the emerging sector is outperforming roughly 90 percent of other industries in the state!
Colorado’s success has caught the attention of other states in the country, including Illinois. Currently, the state is exploring unconventional methods to improve the local economy. One of these options is legalizing cannabis on a recreational level. Chicago officials predict that the move could generate up to $699 million for the state – per year. Establishing legal cannabis regulations in Illinois would allow money generated from sales and licensing to go to taxpaying businesses, instead of out-of-town pushers on the streets.
“Legalizing and taxing marijuana will not and should not solve all of our budget woes, but it should be a part of the conversation about resolving Illinois’ worsening budget problems,”
said State Sen. Heather Steans.
Legislators plan to look further into fully legalizing the plant next week, starting with a subject matter hearing on April 19. Specifically, local officials will be dissecting the proposal of Senate Bill 316 and amendments to House Bill 2353. From a long-term perspective, the bills are designed to underpin and streamline the state’s legal cannabis laws.
Under the proposals, adults over the age of 21 are allowed to consume, grow, purchase and hold regulated amounts of cannabis. Furthermore, the legislation recommends implementing taxes for wholesale transactions, at a rate of $50 per ounce. For individuals interested in growing cannabis for personal use, the bills, which were introduced to the state house and senate last month, would allow the cultivation of up to five plants. Possession is limited to 28 grams per individual under the proposals.
Unlike the state of Florida, where legislators and local residents can’t agree on the implementation of medicinal cannabis laws, both groups – Illinois state reps and residents – seem to support cannabis legalization. According to Representative Kelly Cassidy, around 66 percent of local voters favor legalization. Cops and law enforcement groups also carry similar views, when it comes to the effects of legalization on reducing criminal activity.
“If you take that profit margin away from street gangs and drug cartels and put into a controlled and regulated business, everyone would benefit,”
said Brian Gaughan, a retired police officer and a member of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership.
Illinois lawmakers are taking a slow, cautious approach to their legislation efforts in the state to ensure guidelines are thoroughly explored and implemented. Officials will look to states with legal cannabis laws, as they decide on a set of best practices and recommendations for the nascent industry.
“The bill that has been introduced reflects some of the lessons learned in other states that have already gone all the way to tax and regulate, but we also want to have a really thorough and thoughtful conversation,” said Cassidy.