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Will New York or Illinois be Next to Legalize Recreational Marijuana?

A recent poll in New York shows strong public support for legal pot, while Illinois has crushing budget pressures that make cannabis taxes very appealing.

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If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. New York, New York, right?

Deux | Getty Images

Well, not so much with legal marijuana. While medical marijuana is legal in New York, the state has been slower to adapt legalization of recreational marijuana that’s already happened in Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, Massachusetts and Washington.

Maine voters approved it, too, but the Republican governor vetoed the bill to create a legalized marijuana system.

New York might be about to catch up, if a new poll is any indication. And in Illinois, a budget crisis is driving some lawmakers to push for legal marijuana to help pay the state’s massive debt. They even brought in a celebrity this week to make their case.

New York poll

A new poll, conducted by Emerson College for the Marijuana Policy Project, found 62 percent of New York voters favored making adult-use marijuana legal. About 28 percent opposed the idea.

The support is due at least in part to the idea of using taxes and fees on marijuana to pay off the state’s burgeoning debt. That debt is expected to reach $4.4 billion in the fiscal year that begins in April.

Related: Entrepreneurs See Opportunity Addressing Consumer Demand for Pesticide-Free Cannabis

The Marijuana Policy Project quickly used the results to push New York lawmakers to consider legalizing marijuana. Landon Dais, political director for the project’s New York office, told the New York Daily News, “This should be a wake-up call to lawmakers: New Yorkers want their state to take a sensible, humane approach to marijuana policy.

“New York should stop wasting resources punishing otherwise law-abiding residents for using a substance that is safer than alcohol.”

Illinois issues

In Illinois, the budget crisis is even worse. The state faces unfunded pension liabilities of almost $130 billion, according to the University of Illinois – Chicago. The city of Chicago alone faces more than $25 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

That’s a lot of billions. Enter Rick Steves, famed host of the PBS show, “Rick Steves’ Europe.” Lawmakers who favor legalizing recreational marijuana in Illinois joined Steves at a press conference to back their initiative.

Related: Cannabis Advocates Want 'Unjust' Federal Tax Code Changed

Steves is a pro-legalization advocate. His reasoning is that people who want marijuana will get it, anyway. He said it is better to tax and regulate marijuana rather than allow it to flow through the black market.

He called his position “anti-prohibition.” Steves also appeared before a legislative panel considering a bill that would make marijuana sales and possession legal for those over 21, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Two Chicago Democrats, Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy, are sponsoring the bill. They project it will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and fees to the cash-starved state.

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