Yes, adult use cannabis law can be made to work in the state
By SCOTT ABBOTT
Because of my law enforcement background, I often get asked about “adult use” or “recreational” cannabis. I have served at a number of levels in law enforcement, from patrol officer to senior executive. I must admit I initially was opposed to adult use and even opposed to the idea of medical cannabis. All of the reasons I had for opposing both positions were made with my knowledge at the time and based on examples of other states where the law wasn’t working. Despite our efforts at the time, Illinois’ medical cannabis bill was signed into law in 2013. I also believe because of law enforcement’s efforts, the medical cannabis bill was crafted in a more thoughtful way and ended up being one of the most restrictive medical cannabis laws in the nation.
Since that time, I have seen, first hand, how a law can be crafted to mitigate those very real examples of when the law doesn’t work. I’ve also realized that law enforcement knowledge and input can make a real difference in not only making laws better, but helping people in ways I would have never dreamed before. It took research, education and conversation but I am now a believer in the power of cannabis and its new position in our society.
In my role with a cannabis company, I oversee compliance. I have also assisted in some of the training for the state inspectors charged with ensuring compliance of the law. I have seen that cannabis can be regulated and is being regulated very well in Illinois, to the point where Illinois is becoming a model for other states introducing cannabis bills. As we move forward with an adult use bill I strongly encourage legislators to involve law enforcement in the conversations that will shape the new law, ultimately helping navigate through concerns and crafting language aimed at a successful program.
There are so many potential benefits to a responsibly crafted adult use program including allowing law enforcement to focus on violent and property crimes, generating additional tax revenue, creating a new industry and associated jobs and tourism, reducing the availability of cannabis on the illicit drug market, reducing the profitability of the illicit drug market, ensuring cannabis products are tested and safe, reducing the availability of cannabis to children, and a reduction of violence associated with the illicit drug market.
It is believed that adult use cannabis could generate anywhere from $300 million to $750 million in tax revenue annually. Although that is certainly enticing to a state facing the budgetary concerns Illinois has, our lawmakers must be strategic in assessing the tax on adult use. Placing too high of a tax burden will simply make cannabis too expensive in the regulated market and will entice people to purchase cannabis on the illicit drug market. By assessing a more conservative tax base, legal adult use cannabis can compete with the illicit drug market and undercut its effectiveness. A legal retail market gives people the ability to purchase cannabis in a safe, non-violent, regulated and controlled environment.
A legal market would also create a brand-new economy for thousands of Illinoisans and millions of visitors. A study recently released by the University of Illinois estimates an adult use cannabis program would create 2,600 businesses and generate 24,000 additional jobs. The study goes on to say the benefits associated with an adult use program far outweigh any perceived risks and would save $18 million in law enforcement efforts annually. The time and effort law enforcement spends on cannabis related offenses is considerable. If law enforcement were freed from this burden, it would clearly be a force multiplier for our already taxed police forces across the state.
Cannabis is safer and certainly more controlled in a regulated market. Allowing large amounts of cannabis to remain unregulated is very enticing to the illicit drug market and associated criminal enterprises. The violence and unsafe products associated with the illicit drug market will continue to flourish. Any amounts of unregulated cannabis in these markets continue to hold the floodgates open for criminal enterprises. Cannabis without any testing or tracking mechanisms is simply unsafe and not regulating it is an open invitation to gangs and drug cartels to operate freely. The continued gang activity bankrolled by the sale of illegal marijuana has and will continue to place incredible burdens on law enforcement if something doesn’t change. The violence and criminal activities associated with these gangs are unimaginable and their presence in our communities is devastating.
Ironically, some in law enforcement will oppose any concept of adult use, claiming the same argument I’ve just presented. Consider this: Law enforcement has been fighting the war on cannabis for several decades yet cannabis still infiltrates our communities like never before. This continued philosophy and approach is simply an unnecessary burden on law enforcement. An unregulated drug market is a drug dealer’s best friend.
One of the realized benefits of adult use cannabis is the impact it can have on the illicit drug market, ultimately limiting access to cannabis outside legal and regulated channels. One of the greatest benefits is limiting access to cannabis to Illinois’ youth. Cannabis in an unregulated market continues to make it virtually effortless for Illinois’ youth to obtain. Ultimately, risking lives and increasing emergency room hospital visits substantially.
No state benefit has or will come from an unregulated cannabis market. It will, however, continue to increase the workload of local police, and maintain the availability of unregulated cannabis on the illicit drug market. Without a doubt millions of taxable dollars will go underutilized. At the end of the day the answer isn’t more money for prevention. It’s more money for education, something a legal adult use market can provide and sustain.
Scott Abbott is chief compliance officer of HCI Alternatives, which operates cannabis dispensaries in Collinsville and Springfield. He wrote this column at the request of the Illinois Business Journal.