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Recreational marijuana: Illinois embarks on a long, strange trip

Recreational marijuana: Illinois embarks on a long, strange trip

June 6th, 2019 by Chicago Tribune in Opinion Columns

Bringing recreational marijuana to Illinois means that an illicit drug will become a legal product for adults.

If you're old enough to have been a hippie, your mind is blown, we imagine. Hey, it's freaky for younger generations, too, but probably a source of pain to any pot smoker who faced prosecution for what soon will be condoned as a lifestyle choice.

The legal ramifications are profound. But the culture change also feels significant—partly because drug use is a divisive issue. Many people in Illinois will celebrate their first legal highs. Others will be wary of what's to come.

The closest comparison to legalizing grass is the 1933 end to Prohibition after nearly 14 years. Suddenly, drinking was allowed. Bootleggers went out of business and speakeasies went legit. Back then the Tribune Editorial Board had deemed Prohibition a mistake and a "virus" on the Constitution. "Regulation so closely concerned with human nature is better undertaken by small political units," the Tribune said. In other words, the citizens of individual states, counties and cities know best how to oversee their own social behavior. That's true today.

With recreational marijuana, we saw the advantages but advocated lawmakers slow their eager pursuit of pot in order to learn more from other states' experiences. We want Illinois to get its legislation and regulations right the first time.

Now everyone will learn together what it means to have recreational marijuana. Dispensaries that currently sell medical marijuana will be open to the general public as soon as Jan. 1. Expect more such businesses to join them. The bill includes an important provision directing the governor to pardon those with a previous conviction for low-level possession. Authorities can also expunge or delete public records of convictions.

The potential harms of pot won't be understood for some time. As with alcohol, marijuana brings the risks of abuse, of use by minors and of being a safety hazard when drivers are under the influence.

As the Grateful Dead, early advocates of mind-bending substances, noted in song, life with drugs can make for a long, strange trip.

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