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No time to waste on legalizing pot, sports betting to shore up Illinois finances

An attendant holds a mason jar of marijuana at the Far West Holistic Center dispensary, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in Detroit. Michigan voters have made their state the first in the Midwest to legalize recreational marijuana. Voters passed a ballot measure Tuesday that will allow people 21 or older to use the drug. North Dakota voters decided recreational pot wasn't for them, Missouri voters passed one of three unrelated measures legalizing medical marijuana and voters in Utah were also considering a medical marijuana proposal. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) ORG XMIT: otkco105

A joint panel of New Jersey lawmakers approved a bill on Monday to regulate, tax and legalize marijuana. | AP file photo/Carlos Osorio

Legalize marijuana. Legalize sports betting. And do it in the name of education.

Illinois needs money. We owe billions of dollars to contractors the state hired but failed to pay. We owe hundreds of billions to pension funds. We need billions of dollars to fund our public schools because we have maxed out property taxes to fund education.

OPINION

For decades Americans opposed the legalization of narcotics and gambling and because of that organized crime and street gangs prospered, corrupting law enforcement and draining society of resources that could have been used to help our neighbors and make the streets safer.

But something has changed in recent years.

We’re running out of money to fund everything. That means bridges are collapsing, drinking water is contaminated and public transportation systems cost so much that only the rich can afford them.

Voters hate taxes.

Voters love sin.

And all of us love children.

That’s how state-sponsored lotteries became so popular. They were sold to the public as a way of financing education, for the sake of little tykes everywhere, don’t you know.

Today, every TV network in the nation gleefully promotes the lottery, telling all of us we can win $1 billion by buying a $2 ticket. Sure, the chances of getting hit by lightning (twice) are better than winning the big jackpot. Sure, the poorest people in the country spend the largest percentage of their earnings trying to strike it rich. Who cares?

It’s not a tax hike. It’s fun.

Conservative and liberal commentators long ago agreed that it was time to legalize marijuana. We spend so much money on police officers, lawyers, judges and jails to combat smoking weed that our resources were being stretched to the limit.

We are running out of money. And people don’t like paying taxes.

Finally, the middle class came around to the notion that maybe marijuana wasn’t so bad if it was taken medicinally. You know, the way doctors used to prescribe whiskey in the Old West.

People with cancer needed it. People with back pains. People with tooth aches. People who couldn’t stand their bosses. Hey, that wasn’t covered under the law.

So, it became necessary to make recreational marijuana legal. Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker said he would consider doing that right here in Illinois and he got elected in a landslide. Pritzker also said he would consider legalizing internet sports gambling.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said sports gambling is constitutional, almost like gun ownership. So now all 50 states are considering bookmaking parlors in The Cloud (sounds like heaven). The only question is how to maximize the government’s cut without turning off the folks running the sports books.

Prostitution remains illegal, although a large part of the nation is apparently in agreement that there is nothing wrong with a president paying “hush money” to a porn star after sex. That is not prostitution; it is politics.

And while Americans are willing to tax gambling and drugs to finance their children’s education, we still find it offensive to tax sex for that purpose. Society has to draw a line somewhere. We’re not savages, after all.

Mayoral candidate Dorothy Brown recently proposed selling the naming rights to Chicago City Hall to help finance the pension system.

I made a similar proposal years ago for Illinois and it was ignored. The State Capitol Building has been the Home of the Whopper for decades, so why not work with Burger King to make some money off the place?

The bottom line is Illinois is pretty close to broke. The kids need books and health care and nobody wants to pay taxes. They simply don’t have the money. People will move out of state if you continue taxing their homes.

But they may actually move back to Illinois if they can bet on the Bears and smoke a joint on Sunday afternoon. People always have plenty of money for gambling, sports and drugs.

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