PRINCETON — It's been about two months since Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker took office, and he can already put a check mark next to one of his top priorities: increasing minimum wage.
Now state legislators are turning their attention to his next priority — legalizing recreational marijuana.
One of the leading arguments given by proponents on this issue is that it has the potential to collect myriad tax dollars that could alleviate the state's poor financial status.
But local drug prevention agencies, such as CPASA (Community Partners Against Substance Abuse), are not buying that argument.
Collectively, their stance is that the human and health risks far outweigh any monetary benefits reaped from legalizing marijuana as a recreational drug.
CPASA member Torri Reinbeck, who is also a public health educator with the Bureau Putnam Marshall County Health Department, said her biggest concern lies among young people. She said she fears that legalizing the drug will only make it easier to get into their hands.
She explained how there's already an issue with electronic cigarettes and nicotine addiction in the area schools. She leads the Bureau Putnam Power youth coalition, which focuses on drug prevention among students. While schools are constantly battling the issue of keeping electronic cigarettes off school grounds, new cigarette models make it easier for kids to use the devices in school.
Reinbeck said kids are smart, and they will figure out a way to put cannabis oil within their devices.
"We're are going to have an issue of parents not knowing what a Juul is, and whether or not the pod within that Juul is nicotine-based or marijuana," she said.
"I feel like we're creating a generation of addiction that is way beyond what we are prepared for, and it worries me."
Reinbeck said marijuana is the No. 1 illicitly used drug by people ages 12 and up, and it's been proved to impact the development of the brain, and lead to psychosis and schizophrenia.
"I really worry about it getting into the hands of kids, because the THC levels aren't like what they were back in the '70s," she said.
THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that gives the high sensation.
Over the years, the marijuana plant has been genetically modified to produce a higher THC level. CPASA members say that in 1983, the THC level in marijuana was 3.3 percent. In 2007, it was at 9.6 percent. Today, it's 33 percent.
"The risk of marijuana poisoning has increased by 830 percent. I don't think a lot of people realize that," Reinbeck said.
CPASA Director Terry Madsen said today's marijuana is not what his generation is familiar with. CPASA member Hector Gomez, who is also the Bureau Putnam Marshall County Health Department director, agreed, and added, "It's not your grandpa's marijuana."
Gomez said people are hearing and reading about the tax benefits from states like Colorado, California and Washington, which were the first to legalize recreational marijuana. What they're not looking at are statistics that show there's been an increase in fatal car crashes and an increase in addiction rates.
According to Madsen, statistics show that marijuana-related fatalities are up 100 percent in Colorado.
"There's a huge difference between marijuana and alcohol," Madsen said.
He pointed out how it's difficult for police officers to measure THC in the body when a motorist is pulled over. With alcohol, it's easily tracked with a breathalyzer, and the standard 0.08 has been determined to be the limit for drivers.
He said there's too many variables right now that are making it difficult to determine how long a high from THC lasts and how long performance is impacted.
What's worse, is that 40 percent of deceased drugged drivers are also testing positive for alcohol, according to Madsen.
Madsen said while people like to argue that marijuana isn't any worse than alcohol, he thinks about the number of people who die every year in alcohol-related accidents.
"Are we going to increase that number by 100 percent or 150 percent? Somewhere there's a number that's the number of lives we are willing to write off in order to get the tax money," he said.