Travel Host Rick Steves Testifies in Favor of Illinois Marijuana Legalization Effort

Article by Nick Swedberg, The Cannabist

Rick Steves, a well-known traveler and one of the country's most visible advocates of marijuana legalization, speaks during an interview in Portland, Ore., on Oct. 7, 2014. (Don Ryan, The Associated Press) Travel host Rick Steves testifies in favor of Illinois marijuana legalization effort "Illinois, to me, feels more comfortable with this," than some other states, Steves said

A longtime travel show personality and advocate for marijuana legalization is backing an effort in Illinois to make the drug legal for adults and regulate it like alcohol.

Rick Steves, host of the PBS travel documentary series Rick Steves’ Europe, testified Tuesday in front of Illinois lawmakers that his “hunches” about the long-term effects of legalization in early-adopter states like Colorado and Washington have proven true.

“When you legalize marijuana, use does not go up,” Steves said. “Crime does not go up. What goes up is tax revenue, and what goes down is the black market.”

Illinois Democrats are pushing bills in that state’s House and Senate to legalize the use of marijuana for anyone 21-year-old or older and tax it in a similar way to alcoholic beverages.

Sponsors of the bills said the goal is to bring marijuana out of the black market where prohibition efforts have failed and tax its legal use, which is estimated to bring $350 to $700 million in new tax revenue.

“We’ve looked at the law enforcement perspective. We’ve looked at the history of other states, and we’ve gone about crafting this bill by looking at what other states have done right and what they wish they had done differently,” said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat from Chicago.

Lawmakers also invited representatives from Colorado to testify Tuesday about their state’s adoption of legal marijuana use.

Most states, including Colorado, failed to study marijuana users before legal use was allowed to see what effect legalization had, said state Rep. Dan Pabon, chairman of the Colorado House Finance Committee.

“We never knew the size of the black market before we started. None of us had had data … about how much cannabis was being consumed,” Pabon said. He recommended Illinois gather data on users now and study the health effects after marijuana is legalized, if approved.

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