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Safety, homelessness come up during discussion on legal pot

Chicago Sun Times

Thursday, April 20, 2017  |  Article  |  Mitch Dudek

Drugs (32)

As debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana continues to increase in Illinois, legislators with the chance to bend the ear of the woman who heads up regulation of recreational marijuana in Colorado focused their questions on public safety.

During a public meeting held Wednesday in the Loop, Barbara Brohl, executive director of Colorado’s Department of Revenue, had a blunt response when asked to comment on people who might buy marijuana legally and then give it to kids.

“I will tell you what keeps me up at night is that 22-year-old person who walks in and buys it legally and goes home and gives it to his or her 15-year-old brother or sister.

“That is something in a regulated market we can’t prevent any more than we can prevent that 22-year-old that walks into a liquor store and buys some fruit flavored vodka and takes it home and shares it with his or her younger sibling,” Brohl said.

During a wide ranging presentation and discussion about the marijuana industry with members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the House Appropriations Public Safety Committee, Brohl made it clear that she was impartial about the drug and was simply there to share with Illinois what information she could.

It’s legal for people over 21 in Colorado to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, which is readily available in dedicated shops throughout the state.

Colorado, she said, has three main marijuana guide posts when it come to policy making: preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing the involvement of criminal enterprises and preventing the diversion of legalized marijuana to other states.

Two bills that would legalize marijuana in Illinois exist in the House and Senate. However, there are no plans to introduce either anytime soon.

Regulators use technology to track every plant from seed to sale. And many of the regulations imposed on Colorado’s gaming industry have also been applied to recreational marijuana, Brohl said.

Since the state began selling recreational marijuana January 1, 2014 — combined with medical marijuana sales — Colorado has collected more than $400 million in taxes, a large chunk of which has gone towards schools.

State Sen. Dale A. Righter (R-Mattoon), noting that “there’s a price” in social ills that would accompany an increase in tax revenue, asked about a news report that attributed marijuana legalization with an increase in homelessness in Denver.

“There has been an increase in the number of homeless in Colorado, where that is coming from is open to a lot of interpretation,” Brohl said, adding that a portion of taxes collected from marijuana goes towards combating homelessness.

She also acknowledged a slight uptick in emergency room visits, but said it was too soon to attribute the data to marijuana legalization.

Eight American states have legalized marijuana, although it remains illegal under federal law.

“I have become convinced that trying to look at doing a tax and
regulation structure really makes a lot of sense,” said state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago).

“Prohibition right now I think just does not work. We have around 750,000 people in Illinois who we think are using cannabis,” she said.