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Forum examines pros, cons of legalizing marijuana in Illinois

State Sen. Don DeWitte sponsored May 13 forum

ST. CHARLES – As the state legislature continues to debate whether recreational marijuana should be legalized, those on both sides of the issue spoke at a May 13 forum at St. Charles North High School.

The forum was hosted by State Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles. Speaking in favor of the legislation was State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, and speaking against the legislation was McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally.

Steans is the primary sponsor of the legislation, which would allow Illinois residents to possess 30 grams of marijuana, five grams of marijuana concentrate and 500 milligrams of THC contained in marijuana-infused products. Visitors from other states could possess half of those amounts.

Up to five home-grown plants would also be allowed, provided certain safety conditions are met.

According to the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, legalizing recreational marijuana would generate $525 million in new tax revenue and will create nearly 24,000 new jobs in 2,600 businesses.

The bill also allows for the expungement of misdemeanor and Class 4 felony marijuana convictions and makes a special designation in the licensing process for “social equity applicants,” or businesses having a majority of owners or employees from communities that were “disproportionately impacted” by the war on drugs.

Kenneally said he was concerned that making recreational marijuana legal in Illinois would increase crime. He said that is what happened when marijuana was legalized in states such as Colorado. But his main concern was that it would increase the number of motorists who are driving impaired.

And he said it would be hard to prove the motorist was driving impaired.

“Cannabis doesn’t stay in your blood,” he said. “Within 30 minutes after smoking cannabis, almost 90 percent of the THC is out of your system. ... So in many of the DUI cannabis cases, we are not going to be able to provide justice.”

Among those attending the forum were Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke and St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina.

“I have very strong concerns about parts of that bill, specifically that thing where you’re going to home-grow it, because that will get out of hand instantly and there won’t be any tax generated,” Schielke said.

Schielke said he was afraid people would not abide by the rule that only five home-grown plants would be allowed.

“There’s going to be nobody there to monitor it and control it,” he said. “And beyond that you’re going to have no tax being paid on it. And this whole thing is being sold about all this revenue we’re going to get.”

Rogina said he was at the forum to gather more information about the issue. He said a decision on whether marijuana should be legalized “shouldn’t be rushed.”

“I thank Sen. DeWitte for sponsoring this and having these people come out to give us an educated viewpoint,” he said. “There are a lot of arguments on both sides of the fence that go a long way.”

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