Since the 2014 legalization of cannabis in Colorado, state after state has been clamoring to be the next to legalize. Before Illinois becomes the next state to join this list, voters should stop and think about the actual results of recreational cannabis, not just the rhetoric.
Possibly the biggest problem many don’t consider is that of driving while under the influence. While many don’t seem to believe this an issue — with some saying they drive safer while high — the data paints a different picture. Though it’s difficult to study, there’s little doubt cannabis seriously impairs driving abilities.
In fact, since the legalization of cannabis in Colorado, the state has seen a 153 percent increase in deaths caused by drivers who tested positive for cannabis. With an increase this large, this number is almost certainly up from where it was before legalization, though the other half of the problem — and the main reason this is so hard to study — is there’s still no effective way to test if someone is currently under the influence.
The above numbers come from people who had cannabis in their system at the time of a crash, but police and scientists alike are still trying to create a system similar to the Breathalyzer for alcohol. Currently, the only way for police to determine if someone is high is with tests like the walk-turn and the one-leg stand, both of which have come under scrutiny for being too subjective.
This lag in technology creates major legal hurdles yet to be solved, as Colorado, and the other states that have legalized, are struggling to find a way to deal with it while ensuring fair trials and preventing those who endanger others from getting off scot-free.
Driving under the influence isn’t the only illegal activity to go up post-legalization, as Colorado’s actions didn’t seem to stop — or even slow down — the cannabis black market. Instead, arrests for the illegal production of cannabis have gone up by an astounding 380 percent.
A spike this large poses clear issues for those who argue legalization will reduce organized crime by shrinking their market, when it actually seems to be doing the reverse. Colorado arrests for organized crime have tripled since legalization, suggesting gangs move to where cannabis is legal rather than trying to smuggle it across borders.
This isn’t to say that legalization should never be on the table, though. It’s one of the few politically popular sources of revenue, and, as of February of this year, Colorado has made almost $1 billion from cannabis taxes. To put that number into perspective, $1 billion is almost 8 percent of all revenue collected by Colorado in 2016.
Collecting this much in a politically popular way would be a definite positive for a state like Illinois, but Illinois finances aren’t so dire it can’t wait for these problems to be worked out. None of these problems are intractable, and, with this many states working toward solutions, they’ll likely not remain major problems for long.
The biggest issue with legalization isn’t the act itself — which has had positives and negatives where it’s been tried — but, rather, the overblown rhetoric from those who support it, including supporters in Illinois.
The bill in Illinois’ General Assembly has been called a “go slow measure,” though this idea needs more than just those words. Supporters have continued to push ahead at full speed despite the many issues. Although many of these issues are solvable, they should have been foreseen and ignoring their existence only undercuts the exact case made by many who support legalization.
Legalizing cannabis could eventually be a boon for Illinois’ economy, but there are still major legal and technical challenges to solve before more states jump on board.