You may have noticed when voting last month in the Illinois primary that Illinois is considering legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. In fact, 68% of Cook County voters voted in favor of this advisory, nonbinding referendum on the ballot. It is no secret that the State of Illinois is strapped for cash with nearly $9 billion in unpaid bills as of February 7, 2018, and a credit rating that is at its worst in Illinois’ 200-year history. It is estimated that the legalization of recreational marijuana would generate revenue between $350 million and $700 million annually for Illinois. Naturally, the State of Illinois would not be the only beneficiary if such a referendum were to pass, but it would also create employment and business opportunities for its citizens.
However, critics are quick to point out the potential costs involved in the regulation and enforcement of recreational marijuana. Of course Illinois would not be the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, as eight other states have already done so, all of which generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue. Nonetheless, Illinois has some stark opposition to overcome with the current administration as well as the Illinois Sheriff Association strongly opposed to the idea of recreational marijuana.
Conversely, legalizing marijuana is not the only way Illinois may see additional revenue from the cannabis plant. The Industrial Hemp Act was just introduced to the Illinois Senate, and if it passes the General Assembly, it would allow farmers to begin growing industrial hemp. Currently, in Illinois, the state department of agriculture is authorized to conduct research on industrial hemp due to the Federal Farm Bill. Additionally, in 2015, Illinois authorized state universities with agriculture programs to study hemp. The Industrial Hemp Act would expand the ability to grow hemp to farmers. Supporters of the Act claim there are at least 25,000 different products that can be made from hemp with products ranging from plastic alternatives to food, cosmetics, rope, and clothing. Supporters allege that the ability for farmers to grow hemp will not only lead to economic growth in Illinois but also allow the creation of more jobs. Supporters believe it will not only give farmers the potential to grow another crop and diversify their income but Illinois could become the market leader in hemp production.
All in all, there is new legislation on the horizon dealing with the cannabis plant that has the potential to stimulate the Illinois economy, and provide to new business and employment opportunities for Illinois citizens.