This editorial was published in the Jan. 10, 2021 edition of The (Champaign) News-Gazette.
The people of Illinois may be suffering from a coronavirus hangover that just won’t go away, but sellers of legal marijuana appear to be thriving.
Is there a link between the depressing reality of the pandemic and the booming business of legal-marijuana sales?
Who can say for sure? People were buying lots of the weed when it was illegal, so it’s hardly a surprise that there’s great market demand after Gov. J.B. Pritzker and legislators legalized sale of the substance on Jan. 1, 2020.
But the sales figures speak for themselves.
As of the end of November, sales statewide totaled $582 million, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
The combined sales in our state in 2020 of both recreational and medical marijuana exceed $1 billion.
Sales-tax revenue from recreational marijuana totals more than $150 million. Even though that’s chump change in the context of the state’s deficit-laden $40 billion-plus budget, it’s still a lot of money.
From all public appearances, legalization has been mostly a non-event. Everyone will know more about the private impact on families and individuals after more time has passed and researchers have had greater opportunities to study its social impact.
Public-health advocates warned that legalization would encourage greater consumption that would lead to a variety of problems — more driving under the influence of drugs and mental-health issues, particularly for young people.
But they were mostly ignored as Illinois followed many other states — Colorado, Oregon and Washington, to name three — in pursuing legalization.
Illinois was the 11th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Four more joined that list in the November 2020 election — Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota.
Politico reports that “1 in 3 Americans now live where all adults have access to it.”
Among those expected to join the 15 states plus the District of Columbia in the near future are New York, Florida and Ohio.
Thirty-five states plus D.C. have approved medical marijuana, a historical harbinger of full legalization. It won’t be long before the states where marijuana consumption is legal will outnumber — perhaps far outnumber — those where it isn’t.
It’s a state-by-state movement that, as times and attitudes change, appears irresistible. Federal law still criminalizes marijuana, but officials at that level mostly ignore the prohibition.
Federal legalization is not a high priority of Joe Biden’s incoming administration. But there’s considerable speculation that Congress will follow the states’ lead during his tenure.