Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey plans to bring the issue of recreational use of marijuana before the county's voters.
Fritchey, who represents District 12, said he will introduce a measure to put an advisory referendum proposal on the March ballot during an interview on the Nov. 9 edition of "Chicago's Morning Answer" radio program on WIND. Should the measure get approved at the board's Dec. 13 meeting, Fritchey said, voters would have it put before them in March.
Recreational use of pot would have to be approved statewide, and legislation is pending in the General Assembly, but the Cook County vote would establish where its residents stand.
Cook County has about 40 percent of the state's total population, Fritchey said.
Estimates of revenue from sales of legal cannabis in Illinois are about $500 million, and there are cost savings to consider as well, Fritchey said. Each year, thousands of people are arrested in Illinois for having small amounts of marijuana, and those cases tie up an already financially stretched court system even though about 90 percent of the cases end up getting dismissed. That leaves thousands of people with arrest records for no reason, which causes difficulties in getting jobs or financing, he said.
Also, about 29 states have laws allowing either recreational or medicinal marijuana, Fritchey said, and things have gone fine there.
“You know, the revenue's coming in, the sky isn't falling, and I think it's time that Illinois takes a hard look at doing this sooner rather than later,” Fritchey said.
The revenue could go toward helping the funding for education and pensions, for example. That money coming in would help overcome holes in the budget such as the repealed soda sales tax. Also, the state already has a framework in place to handle such a system, one which monitors and regulates medicinal marijuana in areas such as cultivation and transportation through sales. Illinois began a pilot program for medicinal marijuana in 2013, the state's website reported.
“So expanding its recreational use would take some work, but not as much work as it did to get us up for the medical cannibis,” Fritchey said.
Show co-host Bruce Wolf said that what Fritchey presented sounded good, but he had concerns about the impression of encouraging vice. Fritchey responded by saying pot already has a foothold and the state should step in.
“What you're recognizing is that there is an illegal market right now,” he said. “There are a number of peole who smoke cannabis, and that we'd be better off having a framework to regulate it.”
Wolf then brought up the effects of prohibition, saying that the laws that banned alcohol decades ago also helped to lower the number of alcohol addicts. Fritchey countered that the majority of studies on marijuana show it is not addicitive or a gateway drug.
Fritchey said he has enough sponsors on the board to get his measure approved.
The commissioner said a poll from the Paul Simon Institute said that two-thirds of Illinois residents are in favor of marijuana legalization, with about 70 percent of Cook County residents in favor.
“So the public support is there, and now I'm hoping that the political support will be there as well,” Fritchey said.