Reed: Give marijuana legalization in Illinois another chance

Chase Reed, Columnist

Propelled by a statewide budget crisis and a rapid shift in the perception of marijuana, Illinois lawmakers introduced two new bills in March that aim to legalize the often-maligned drug for recreational use by adults and to regulate its sale through taxation. Should a bill pass in either house of the Illinois General Assembly, it would potentially open up the floodgates for a lucrative windfall that would ameliorate some of the state’s budget woes, in addition to allowing local law enforcement to concentrate on other crimes.

Although it only represents one step toward rectifying the ongoing state budget impasse, marijuana legalization carries a number of potential medical and social advantages that necessitate its imminent implementation. As of now, there are many identified therapeutic benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), part of a class of compounds known as cannabinoids which includes tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana that contributes to a “high.” These benefits purportedly include the ability to reduce anxiety, epileptic seizures, nausea, schizophrenic effects and tremors — including the debilitating consequences of Parkinson’s disease.

The key word to note here is “purportedly.” Given the federal status of cannabis as a Schedule I drug, any and all research related to marijuana is strictly filtered through government channels. Researchers attempting a deep dive into the possible effects of marijuana on the brain and body are required to source their samples from a 12-acre farm at the University of Mississippi run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It has been the only source of legally researchable pot in the United States since the late 1960s.

Consequently, it’s difficult for researchers to fully take hold of the wheel and steer their studies in the direction they want to pursue. The drug’s illegal status can entail a bureaucratic flood of paperwork, increased expenditures, long waiting periods for research approval and limited supply. As a result, substantive inquiries into the effects of marijuana have come few and far between. These constraints often place limitations on the capacity for medical professionals to determine how different strains of marijuana may affect their patients depending on their specific ailment.

Socially, the de-stigmatization of marijuana has already begun in Illinois, as evidenced by an attempt to reduce the number of arrests related to petty drug possession. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill in summer 2016 that effectively reduced punishment for carrying less than 10 grams of marijuana, from a class B misdemeanor accompanied by up to 30 days in jail to just citations and fines.

Decriminalization was the first check mark on the to-do list for proponents of legalization, and it’s only natural that the full-fledged legalization of marijuana seems to be the next logical action for state legislators to pursue. As the general population slowly turns the tide from stigmatizing and rejecting individuals who use marijuana to a more open-minded, accepting attitude, it makes sense for Illinois to follow suit at the forefront of the fight for legalization.

If the economic benefits reaped by the eight states that have already legalized marijuana is any indication — from the approximately $2.4 billion generated by the industry in Colorado in 2015 to a projected multi-billion dollar boon for California’s economy once the state’s marijuana market is fully established — Illinois should follow in their footsteps to prosper economically. And that’s in addition to the potential health and societal benefits associated with the drug. It’s essential to give legal marijuana a chance in Illinois, and now’s the perfect time to do it.

Chase Reed is a Communication freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.