Chicago, Illinois Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to give his city a parting gift before he leaves office in May 2019—by legalizing cannabis in the city and opening up a casino.
The reason for the changes is to help pump money into the city’s pension funds. Chicago’s four public worker pension funds are plagued with over $27 billion in unpaid liabilities. Any tax revenue generated from recreational cannabis and a Chicago-based casino will be directed toward the pension fund debt.
The city will need an additional $276 million by 2020 to pay for police and fire pension contributions, plus $310 million by 2022 to cover its municipal and laborers fund.
“Illinois legislators will be taking a serious look next year at legalizing recreational marijuana,” Mayor Emanuel said in a Dec. 12 speech. “Should they follow that course, a portion of that revenue could go toward strengthening our pension funds and securing the retirement of the workers who depend on them. I believe recreational marijuana has social costs that must be considered. And like a casino, revenue would take time to be realized.”
It’s a sharp contrast from in 2015, when Mayor Emanuel said he didn’t “think you should balance the budget by promoting recreational smoking of pot.” Apparently Mayor Emanuel has gone through a change of heart since then.
Illinois Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker has already indicated that he will attempt to legalize cannabis throughout the whole state as one of the selling points of his campaign. It would only make sense that Chicago would lead the way in cannabis reform.
Opening a casino or allowing recreational cannabis would be the least of Chicago’s worries, given its exceptionally high rate of violent crime. The potential tax revenue that comes from regulating cannabis businesses is a boon to any city with financial struggles, including Chicago.