Daily Egyptian

Poll finds most Illinois voters favor marijuana decriminalization, legalization

Barry Banks, a graduate student in curriculum and instruction, smokes medical marijuana from a glass pipe Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, at his home. Banks receives the prescription for diabetic neuropathy and is currently participating in a statewide pilot program. Before he received medical marijuana, Banks was prescribed opiates that he believes has harsher side effects.

Barry Banks, a graduate student in curriculum and instruction, smokes medical marijuana from a glass pipe Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, at his home. Banks receives the prescription for diabetic neuropathy and is currently participating in a statewide pilot program. Before he received medical marijuana, Banks was prescribed opiates that he believes has harsher side effects. "I don't mind being part of the experiment," Banks said. "I have a much better quality of life." (Daily Egyptian | Aidan Osborne)

By Bill Lukitsch

Illinois voters are giving the green light to remove criminal penalties for marijuana or legalize the drug for recreational use.

A recent Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll found that 74 percent of registered voters surveyed favored imposing fines on those caught with small amounts of the drug rather than criminal prosecution. Two-thirds of those same survey responders supported legalizing and taxing marijuana.

Interim Director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute Jak Tichenor said in a statement that Illinois voters are becoming more comfortable with decriminalization, adding that there is now evidence showing “most see it as a potential revenue source for the state.”

Advertisement

The results of a similar Simon Poll conducted in 2016 shows less than half of Illinois voters in favor of changing the state’s drug laws. This year’s poll saw a 21 percentage point increase in approval after it was coupled with the idea of taxation, according to a release from the Institute.

The results of the poll come as marijuana legalization bills have been introduced in both the Illinois House and Senate. Two state lawmakers, Rep. Kelly Cassidy and Sen. Heather Steans, introduced identical bills to legalize marijuana as a means to ease the state’s financial burdens and end a historic budget impasse that’s nearing the two-year mark.

The proposed law would allow persons 21 years of age and older to purchase or grow up to one ounce of marijuana at a time, and creates a licensing system for businesses to sell the drug for recreational use.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy group with the aim of ending marijuana prohibition, projects the state would earn $399 million and $699 million in added tax revenue. Those estimates were based on Colorado’s usage rates and market price since the state legalized marijuana for adults over 21 years of age.

Criminal prosecutions of marijuana possession in Illinois have loosened since Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a law in 2016 that fines people for carrying less than 10 grams. Previous state law penalized offenders with up to six months’ jail time and $1,500 in fines.

The federal government still classifies marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medical benefits under the Controlled Substances Act, but more than half the states in the country have implemented medical programs, decriminalized or legalized the drug.

Eight states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use since Colorado and Washington became the first to do so in 2012.

The Simon Poll was conducted with a sample of 1,000 registered Illinois voters and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. While the poll found a majority of voters in Illinois approve of removing hefty penalties and legalizing the drug for added state income, differences in opinion appeared between regions, age groups and political party affiliations.

Age

The idea of decriminalizing marijuana was favored most by voters under the age of 35, with 83 percent of saying they supported or strongly supported it. The same number of voters in that age demographic supported legalization, poll data shows.

The strongest opposition for legalization and decriminalization came from those 66 and older, with 66 percent of those surveyed supporting fines for minor possession offenses and about half in favor of making it available recreationally.

Region

Of all the Illinois regions surveyed, Chicago and the surrounding suburbs were most in favor of pot decriminalization and legalization. Eighty percent of those living in the state’s largest city and 79 percent of those in suburban Cook County were in favor of decriminalization, while 74 percent of Chicagoans and 70 percent of Cook County residents want marijuana to become legal if it’s taxed.

In all other portions of the state, those surveyed favored decriminalization and legalization by 63 percent and 54 percent respectively.

Political Party

Democrats were most likely to be in favor of legalization and decriminalization, followed by independent party voters, according to the poll. Slightly more than half of Republicans surveyed want the drug to be legalized, and 66 percent supported decriminalization.

Campus editor Bill Lukitsch can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @lukitsbill.

To stay up to date with all your SIU news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

Advertisement

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




The student news site of Southern Illinois University