Editorial: Illinois' hurry to embrace recreational marijuana
The unrelenting wave across the country to legalize the recreational use of marijuana began in 2012 when Colorado and Washington by way of referendum became the first states in the union to grant that liberty.
Two years later, Alaska and Oregon followed suit; two years after that, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada joined in. All six by referendum.
Two years ago, Vermont became the first state to approve legalization through action by the state legislature without a referendum.
Last year, Michigan became the latest state to legalize recreational use of marijuana when voters agreed to it through a referendum.
All told, that's 10 states that have embraced that freedom in this decade. A movement toward pot clearly is afoot.
Frankly, we don't know if that's a good or a bad thing.
And that, it strikes us, is the problem as the General Assembly rushes toward a May 31 deadline to decide whether Illinois should become the 11th state on the list.
What's the rush?
It seems clear that recreational marijuana hasn't destroyed Colorado or Washington in the seven years since it was legalized.
But likewise, it's also clear that we're all still sifting through the implications in the states where the freedom has been granted, and there are plenty of analyses that suggest or conclude the measures are big business initiatives that have produced problems of one sort or another.
As State Rep. Marty Moylan, an opponent from Des Plaines, aptly points out, the associated commercialization of marijuana will focus on expanding its market by glamorizing marijuana use, not discouraging it.
As law enforcement critics point out, few practical techniques to test for marijuana use have been developed to assist in efforts to discourage driving under the influence.
Proponents of legalization concede that marijuana use can be harmful. Their primary argument is that the status quo is not working, however, and we grant that is true. They say that under legalization, marijuana production, sales and use can be regulated in ways that they can't be now.
It's a strong argument, and we're open to it.
But again, we ask, what's the rush?
Instead, let's take advantage of the fact that we're not first.
Instead, take a year, let both sides agree to design an independent study, perhaps with one of our universities, to examine the experience in the early-adopting states.
It would be important for the sides to agree on the methodology so we can get away from competing studies that have both sides saying the other is making false claims.
Questions to be addressed would include: auto crash rates, effect on psychosis, labor productivity, other health concerns, effect on underage rates of use, and more.
Take a year. If we're going to consider recreational marijuana, let's consider it right. Assign an independent body to develop a report. Publicize the findings. Then take it to the voters for their advice.