In less than six months, one of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s fondest dreams will come true — the sale and recreational use of marijuana will be legal in Illinois.
Nobody knows, although there is considerable speculation. Among the predictions are that it will provide a revenue bonanza for the state, visits to emergency rooms will increase as a consequence of marijuana-related maladies and the use of this previously illegal product will dramatically increase.
Those prognostications barely scratch the surface of what could be in store for the people of Illinois.
There is, however, a barometer to predict the future in the Land of Lincoln. All one has to do is look at the past five years in Colorado, which legalized marijuana in 2014.
The New York Times reported this week that the presence and influence of marijuana has reached into every corner of Colorado, including its capital, where newly empowered lobbyists lay out their legislative wish list for marijuana-supporting Gov. Jarid Polis.
Recent legislative reforms include home delivery of the evil weed and special “marijuana hospitality establishments” where patrons can get stoned without worrying about violating indoor smoking laws.
Legalization, unsurprisingly, has led to increased consumption of marijuana for those 21 and over. Roughly twice as many Coloradans consume marijuana in its various forms as in the rest of the country.
At the same time, surveys involving those underage show mixed results.
Use is roughly the same now as it was before legalization — an estimated 20 percent of Colorado teens are regular users, meaning the vast majority are not.
At the same time, marijuana-related infractions are the main reason for disciplinary issues in schools and student arrests by police.
Broader statistics for arrests of underage youth fall along the same demographic lines as before legalization — black youths are still arrested at higher rates than whites and Hispanics.
The evidence shows that while the vast majority of consumers go without incident, for some, marijuana legalization has led to serious medical and mental health issues as well as violent crime.
Records show more people are visiting hospital emergency rooms for treatment of marijuana-related ailments.
“Some are heavy marijuana users with severe vomiting. Others are children who have eaten edibles. ... They come to the ER disoriented, dehyhdrated or hallucinating after consuming too much marijuana,” The Times reports.
The mentally ill are particularly vulnerable to marijuana-related problems — “patients in the ER with marijuana-related cases were five times as likely to have a mental health issue.”
Then there are what The Times called “haunting deaths” attributed to marijuana use gone wrong:
— A “father of three who shot his wife dead after eating edibles.”
— A skier who committed suicide after consuming.
— Rising numbers of drivers in fatal crashes attributed to marijuana intoxication.
The downside of legalization was no mystery when Colorado as well as other states approved it.
Colorado legislators, just like their counterparts in Illinois, simply decided that the casualties — whatever their age and for whatever reasons — are acceptable collateral damage when contrasted to the perceived benefits of legalization, chiefly increased tax revenues.
Along with the intended consequences of legalization have come unintended consequences that may easily apply to Illinois as well as Michigan, the two Midwestern states that have legalized marijuana.
Marijuana dispensaries routinely locate along Colorado’s border to serve customers from other states.
At the same time, illegal growers representing major criminal organizations have moved into Colorado to produce marijuana that is exported to other states.
In May, authorities raised 240 homes in the Denver and Northern Colorado area where illegal (non-state-sanctioned) marijuana was being grown.
The U.S. Attorney in Denver calls Colorado “the epicenter of black-market marijuana in the United States.”
The Times reports that others have a different view. They see Colorado’s marijuana industry as “the next Silicon Valley.”