BY RYAN HIDDEN
Illinois state legislators are considering adult-use cannabis legalization. Some argue the reason to legalize cannabis is to raise revenue for the state. One estimate is the state could generate $350 million to $700 million per year with cannabis legalization. More revenue along with reducing law enforcement costs make cannabis legalization compelling. Cannabis legalization is also a criminal justice issue. Cannabis arrests for Blacks are four times higher than whites despite using and selling at similar rates.
When asked if he supported cannabis legalization at a recent forum, a candidate answered, “What message are we sending our kids?” That’s a good question, what message are we sending our kids? Do we consider this question when looking at other public policy decisions or is it something special about cannabis?
What message are we sending our kids when we jail some at higher rates than others, ripping families apart? Incarceration rates for Blacks are more than five times the rate of whites while Black women get imprisoned at twice the rate of white women. Incarcerating Blacks and Hispanics at the same rate as whites would reduce prison and jail populations by 40 percent.
What message are we sending our kids when the state fails to pass a budget? Lack of a budget led to cuts in social safety net services, harming children and others. Without more revenue, cuts made to many programs including childcare, homeless prevention and addiction treatment are unlikely to be recovered even after passing a budget.
What message are we sending our kids when school funding doesn’t provide all kids the same level of education? Some schools have extensive well-funded extracurricular and art programs while other poorer schools are cutting AP classes and combining classes like chemistry and gym due to lack of teachers. Hopefully, the new school funding bill starts to rectify this inequity, but now public money can be used for private schools. We’ll have to wait and see.
What message are we sending our kids when elected officials lack the courage to tax those who are most able to pay? Illinois is 1 of only 8 states with a flat income tax. We need a fair tax that will reduce the burden on middle and working class residents while generating the revenue we need to invest in our people.
One can’t help but notice the glaring discrepancy between the concern for “the message we are sending our kids” on cannabis legalization but not when considering other public policy decisions. Legislators should have the vision to consider their decisions’ impact on today’s kids and future kids too. Often the impact a decision has on the next election is the primary consideration.
Illinois has already decriminalized small amounts of cannabis possession. With 66 percent of Illinoisans supporting full adult-use cannabis legalization, the time is now to take the next step. If readers want to learn more, state representatives are holding a cannabis legalization town hall 6 p.m. March 6 at Carver Community Center 710 W. Percy Baker Jr. Ave.