Illinois lawmakers call for pot task force

April 29, 2014

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Illinois lawmakers are proposing a task force to study legalizing marijuana in the state.

As the state of Illinois drafts rules for medical marijuana, Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey wants lawmakers to open up the discussion for recreational pot use.

Fritchey's proposing the state legislature form a task force as a first step toward full legalization.

“We can find a way to do this and look at what other states have done, and cherry pick the good ideas, dismiss the bad ideas and find a workable policy that recognizes what we’re doing now simply isn’t right,” he said.

Fritchey was joined by State Representatives Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago) and Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) who looked to Colorado and Washington, states that have already legalized recreational pot use.

Colorado officials anticipate generating about $184 million in tax revenue in the first 18 months of legalized sale. That’s an attractive figure for some lawmakers of the cash strapped state of Illinois.

Some critics say legalizing pot would open the door to greater substance abuse, especially among teens.

Fritchey said regulation would address such concerns. He noted at least some portion of legalization or decriminalization would put less of a strain on resources for public safety.

“Marijuana usage among racial categories is essentially the same,” Fritchey said.  “The disparity in Chicago and Cook County is overwhelmingly disproportionate toward African-Americans and Latinos being arrested for simple possession.”

During the press conference, lawmakers were asked if they would try pot if it were legalized. After a second of nervous laughter, Fritchey said a hesitation to answer the question reveals that the topic needs more discussion; people aren’t comfortable talking about it.

Fritchey recognized it would be some time before any legislation is introduced.

In February, State Representative Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) introduced a bill calling for the state to study recreational cannabis. It now sits in committee.

Susie An is WBEZ’s business reporter. Follow her @soosieon.