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Cook County Commissioners Want Voters To Have A Say On Legalizing Marijuana

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Two Cook County commissioners want to let Cook County voters weigh in on whether Illinois should legalize recreational use of marijuana.

Commissioner John Fritchey (D-Chicago) said he and Commissioner Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago) are not asking the county board to legalize recreational marijuana use in Cook County. Instead, they want to put an advisory referendum on the ballot during the primary election in March, asking voters if Illinois should make recreational pot use legal for anyone 21 or older.

Fritchey, who sponsored the state law legalizing medical marijuana when he was in the Illinois House, said current drug policies waste millions of taxpayer dollars on low-level possession cases, and legalization would free up police resources for more serious crime.

"It frees up law enforcement. It unclogs the court system. It keeps tens of thousands of people from being arrested, having their cases dismissed, yet still being left with an arrest record; one that makes it more difficult for them to get a job, a student loan, housing," Fritchey said.

He estimated legalizing marijuana for recreational use would bring in $500 million in new revenue for the state. Fritchey also said recent polls show 70 percent of people in Cook County support legalization.

Rev. Alexander Sharp, executive director of Clergy For A New Drug Policy, said legalization would make it possible to better regulate marijuana, and educate children about drugs.

"Clergy care especially about how we educate our youth on drug use. We know that just say no and prohibition is not the answer," he said.

Fritchey said he will introduce his proposal to the Cook County Board next week. If approved by the board, an advisory referendum would be placed on the ballot in Cook County for the primary election on March 20, 2018.

Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel, who represents the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said he opposes such a measure. He said marijuana is not as harmless as some say, and can lead to behavior problems that are dangerous.

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