Republicans signing on to bills to legalize recreational marijuana

Legislation to legalize recreational marijuana use throughout the state is being revised to gain more bipartisan support in an effort to secure a veto-proof majority.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy and state Sen. Heather Steans introduced the bills last year, but the Chicago Democrats are rewriting some aspects to make the legislation more attractive to Republican counterparts.

East Dundee Republican state Rep. Allen Skillicorn has endorsed Cassidy's bill and signed on as a co-sponsor, arguing recreational use could be an economic boon for parts of the state that are suffering financially. State Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican, has co-sponsored Steans' bill.

Cassidy and Skillicorn met Friday with the Daily Herald editorial board to discuss the legislation.

Cassidy said having Republican support for the legislation would help get the law implemented this year because Gov. Bruce Rauner has signaled he would veto such a bill. Democrats have a veto-proof majority in the Senate, but they would need at least five Republicans in the House to override a gubernatorial veto even if every Democrat supported the bill.

Cassidy estimates legalization for recreational use would generate between $350 million and $700 million in sales taxes alone annually. Because the marijuana would have to be grown in the state, even more money would be generated through excise taxes as well as ancillary financial benefits related to tourism and a reduction in law enforcement and court time devoted to marijuana cases.

"The common thread for all of us is that prohibition hasn't worked," Cassidy said. "And we're not inventing anything fresh here. We can learn from the successes and regrets of the states that have already done this."

Skillicorn said he supports the bill because it has the ability to create jobs and business opportunities in economically depressed downstate regions.

"But ultimately the drug war hasn't worked," Skillicorn said.

The law would allow residents age 21 and over to possess up to 28 grams - or about one ounce - of marijuana for personal use. It would be taxed at a maximum of 20 percent and cap additional local government taxes to an additional 2 percent. Under the current proposal, 30 percent of the new revenue would go to education, 20 percent to public health prevention and educational initiatives, and 50 percent to the state's general fund.

Communities could opt out of allowing sales, but they would not be eligible for any of the revenue split, Cassidy said.

Cassidy said the bills have the support of Democratic legislative leaders.

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