High Number of Cook County Voters Support Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

The referendum's results can determine whether to bring legislation forward in Springfield

It appears Cook County voters are in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana use in Illinois.

Tuesday's referendum question asked if Illinois should legalize "the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older."

By Wednesday morning, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, results showed 68 percent of voters were in favor of the idea in the nation's second most populous county.

The question on whether or not to legalize the drug for recreational use was non-binding, so the vote does not mean recreational marijuana use will automatically become legal in Chicago and Cook County's more than 130 municipalities. In the end, it is up to legislators to propose and pass a law.

The referendum's results can, however, now be used to gauge public opinion and determine whether to bring legislation forward in Springfield.

County commissioners voted unanimously last December to put the question on the primary ballot. The state Senate earlier this month passed a measure to put the question on ballots for statewide voters in November, according to The Chicago Tribune.

The full question on primary election ballots read as follows: "Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?"

Supporters of legalization pointed to the increased tax revenue that has come with legalization, taxation and regulation in other states. Opponents often have concerns about social costs and the fact that marijuana use would remain illegal under federal law.

About six in 10 Americans nationally support marijuana legalization, according to a Pew Research Center survey released earlier this year. Support has nearly doubled what it was in 2000. 

Recreational marijuana is now legal in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Nevada, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and California. All but Vermont passed the laws in binding ballot questions between 2012 and 2016. 

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott in January signed into law a recreational marijuana legalization bill, the Associated Press reported. Scott's signing made Vermont the first state to legalize the drug through legislature instead of a referendum, which is the route Illinois would have to take.

The rollout has not been immediate for most states, and legalization has yielded different results for different states.

California voters approved legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016. The law went into effect in December 2017, but state legislators were already considering lowering the marijuana tax to fight persistent black market sales, the L.A. Times reported Thursday.

On the other end of the spectrum, Colorado brought in nearly $700 million in marijuana tax revenue since its law—which was approved in a 2012 referendum—went into effect in 2014, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

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