Experts warn of legalization's potential perils
Luke Dean Niforatos fears what may happen to Illinois if supporters of marijuana legalization legislation have their way.
“I live in Colorado where it’s already legal, and right now we have a pot shop for every 47 residents in our poorest communities,” Niforatos, chief of staff and senior policy advisor for Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), told the Prairie State Wire. “Look at the way all the other drug industries work. They make all their money off the backs of our most vulnerable.”
Legislation proposed in Illinois would allow adults 21 and older to be in possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana and pave the way for those who have been convicted of misdemeanor or Class 4 felony marijuana charges to have their records expunged. While newly elected Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has also vowed to make sure that communities that have been hardest hit by enforcement of lower-level drug crimes are now able to benefit from the legalization of marijuana, Niforatos said he thinks the bad still easily outweighs the good in essentially allowing for those neighborhoods to be further targeted.
“Again, look at Colorado,” he said. “You now have major for profit drug industries pushing candy marijuana gummies to children. These businesses are setting up shop in minority communities the same way tobacco and alcohol makers did. And in a lot of cases, it’s the same people.”
Lavon Pettis, former Illinois State Director at Healthy & Productive Illinois, also sees the proposed legislation as a threat, and for many of the same reasons as Niforatos.
“What has happened in other states where people moved legalization is in those areas the majority of marijuana shops were located in disinvested communities,” she said. “I hope to see legislators doing their due diligence and researching how and if this could have benefits for communities, along with addressing some of the social justice issues.”
In the end, Niforatos said he feels the price is too high for the government to have any hand in funding such an operation.
“You look at the vice taxes and none of them are coming close to touching what they cost,” he said. “Alcohol and tobacco cost up to $15 in societal cost for every $1 an hour that’s made off them. With marijuana, it has a lasting impact on the brain and is quite harmful for youth.”