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Illinois Looks to Marijuana to Plug Huge Hole it Its Budget

Tax revenues generated by legalized marijuana, plus shedding the huge costs of arresting and jailing nonviolent offenders, are powerfully appealing to fiscally beleagured states.

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Out West, where states first made medical and recreational marijuana legal, the resulting tax money has been a boon for the state and local governments.

In Colorado alone, millions of dollars are going to civic projects, building or renovating schools and even sending kids to college. Oregon has collected $75 million in marijuana taxes although it hasn’t been distributed yet. California is expected to take in millions in taxes once recreational sales begin in January 2018.

That’s a lot of cash. It has not gone unnoticed by politicians across the country.

Related: Israel Studies Potential of Medical Marijuana as a Treatment for Autism

Broke in Illinois.

Illinois is focusing on the potential of marijuana taxes to pull it out of a fiscal tailspin. State lawmakers face a staggering $4.6 billion operating shortfall.

Lawmakers, confronted with the potential for yet another credit downgrade, are considering a deal that would raise taxes rather than curtail spending, according to independent watchdog group Illinois Policy.

This month, with the state Legislature extending a budget impasse into the third year, the Civic Federation’s Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability issued an 86-page report on why the proposed budget from Gov. Bruce Rauner won’t work. They deemed state leaders’ work on the issue a “spectacular failure.”

Marijuana to the rescue?

Illinois has had a limited medical marijuana program in place since 2016. State Rep. Kelly Cassidy and state Sen. Heather Steans have co-authored legislation to make recreational marijuana legal in Illinois. The two lawmakers recently held the first of a series of planned meetings to discuss the issue.

“We want to look and understand what is happening around the country on taxing and regulating [marijuana], and if there are other ways to be thinking about this,” Steans said at the meeting, according to the Columbia Chronicle.

The pair also authored a commentary for the Chicago Tribune arguing legalized marijuana offers a new approach to the problem but partisan politics is blocking consideration of this as a budget solution. They note Colorado brought in almost $200 million in marijuana tax revenue in 2016, a stunning amount of money but a drop in the bucket for what Illinois needs.

Related: The Wishful Outlook for Marijuana Jobs in 2017

However, Cassidy and Stean wrote that the projected marijuana tax revenue of somewhere between $350 million and $700 million could provide services to those most hurt by the budget impasse, including the elderly, ill and colleges that “are leaking students and staff.”

The proposed measure would set up a regulatory system in the state to govern production and sale of recreational marijuana. Illinois residents would have the right to possess about 28 grams of marijuana and also to grow up to five plants in their home.

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