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Illinois Voters Will Make Major Marijuana Decisions In March

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March is a big month for marijuana in Illinois.

Aside from choosing between candidates vying for gubernatorial and attorney general nominations — all of whom have weighed in on the legalization debate — millions of voters in the state’s most populous county will be asked to decide for themselves whether Illinois should end cannabis prohibition.

Plus, legislation to give all of the state’s voters a chance to cast an up-or-down ballot on marijuana legalization later this year will be weighed by lawmakers at the Capitol in Springfield.

The current cannabis ballot question in Cook County is nonbinding. But because the county contains Chicago — and nearly half of the state’s total population — a strong “yes” vote on March 20 would give a huge boost to efforts to legalize marijuana that are currently being considered by state legislators.

The question reads:

“Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?”

And last week, the state Senate Executive Committee approved a measure to place a similar cannabis legalization advisory question on the state’s November general election ballot. That question would read:

“Do you support the legalization of possession and use of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years of age, subject to regulation and taxation that is similar to the regulation and taxation of tobacco and alcohol?”

The full Senate is scheduled to consider the measure on Tuesday. If it is approved there it will go before the House in the coming weeks.

Separately, lawmakers have held several hearings in recent months on legislation that would legalize marijuana in the state without referring a question to voters.

Meanwhile, candidates for governor and attorney general have repeatedly addressed cannabis policy issues, with some making legalization a centerpiece of their campaigns.

Primary elections to pick the Democratic and Republican nominees for those offices will also be held on March 20.

See below to learn how the candidates responded to a marijuana legalization question included in a new survey conducted by the State Journal-Register newspaper in Springfield, Illinois.

(Marijuana Moment has also embedded relevant tweets from some candidates.)

GOVERNOR CANDIDATES

Daniel Biss (D)

“I support the full legalization of marijuana, including for recreational use. I voted to decriminalize marijuana in 2016 and am co-sponsoring legislation to legalize marijuana. I believe that existing marijuana policies unfairly target communities of color, tear apart Illinois families, and unnecessarily burden taxpayers with the costs of prosecuting low-level offenses. By legalizing and taxing marijuana and by exercising my commutation powers, we can keep families together and raise revenue to invest in our communities.”

Bob Daiber (D)

“I’m for it, with two caveats: I would sign legislation only if the public approves, via an advisory referendum. This most not be done for the purpose of bringing in tax revenue – otherwise the tax rate will be set so high that you risk re-creating the very black market we’re trying to eliminate, and you put the state in the position of promoting marijuana use.

“There will be tax revenue, but it is incidental to the policy itself. But prohibition has proven to be more harmful than marijuana itself, and we have people sitting in jail for non-violent drug offenses. I would commute sentences and expunge the records of those who are guilty of marijuana offenses alone.”

Jeanne Ives (R)

“I oppose it. Even if the revenue increase was enough to solve our budget problems – which it is not – legalizing marijuana is the wrong way to solve our budget problems. The Colorado Impact Study on the effect of legalizing marijuana found: Marijuana‐related traffic deaths increased 48 percent in the three‐year average (2013‐2015) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared to the three‐year average (2010‐2012) prior to legalization. During the same time, all traffic deaths increased 11 percent. Marijuana‐related traffic deaths increased 62 percent from 71 to 115 persons after recreational marijuana was legalized in 2013. Youth past month marijuana use increased 20 percent in the two year average (2013/2014) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared to the two‐year average prior to legalization (2011/2012). Nationally youth past month marijuana use declined 4 percent during the same time. Colorado college age past month marijuana use for 2013/2014 was 62 percent higher than the national average. Illinois needs real, structural reform, not quick fixes.”

Christoper Kennedy (D)

“I support the legalization of marijuana but only after we have done a thorough and comprehensive review through the University of Illinois to ensure that public safety and public health are put before profit from marijuana industry. We shouldn’t let the lobbyists write the laws for legalization, it should be done with public health and safety in mind.”

Robert A. Marshall (D)

“To decrease the crime rate in this state, we need to decriminalize marijuana and end the ‘War on Drugs’ and this is discussed below… I believe that marijuana should be legalized throughout the entire state, similar to the situation in Colorado, California, etc. This would generate tens of thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in extra revenue for the State of Illinois. This new revenue should be distributed directly to property owners as a direct rebate. In this way we could relieve the high property levels in this state.”

J.B. Pritzker (D)

“I also support legalizing and taxing recreational use of marijuana, which is estimated to generate as much as $700 million a year for the state… No more studies are needed to show it’s time for Illinois to safely move forward and legalize marijuana. As governor, I will modernize drug laws and move Illinois towards a criminal justice system that gives all Illinoisans a chance to reach their full potential. Importantly, it’s time to regulate and tax marijuana to generate much needed revenue for this state. This is not a moment for a governor like Rauner who stands with Trump. Illinois needs a governor who is ready to legalize marijuana in Illinois to help reform our criminal justice system, improve consumer safety, and increase state revenue. There is an abundance of evidence that shows we can do it in Illinois in a safe way and that it will have real benefits to our state.

“Criminalizing marijuana hasn’t made our communities safer, but has disproportionately impacted black and brown communities. The criminalization of cannabis never has been and never will be enforced fairly, and it’s time to bring that to an end. To right past wrongs, we also have to commute sentences of people in prison who are there for marijuana offenses.”

Bruce Rauner (R) — Incumbent

“I do not support the legalization of recreational marijuana. There are too many unknowns – let’s let other states conduct this particular experiment so we can fully understand the consequences before we make this decision in Illinois.”

ATTORNEY GENERAL CANDIDATES:

Scott Drury (D)

“I firmly believe Illinois will legalize marijuana in the near future, and I support that effort. It is important for Illinois to act responsibly in its move towards legalization. The licensing process must be open and transparent to prevent insiders, cronies, and organized crime syndicates from gaming the system. Further, there must be a concerted effort to protect and educate our children. As a parent, I see the impact legalization is having on the mindset of children – that is, they believe it has no harmful consequences. Additionally, as Attorney General, I will advocate for the federal government to allow banks to accept deposits from marijuana dispensaries and growers. Public safety is threatened when people can only conduct business in cash.”

Sharon Fairley (D)

“I support the legalization of marijuana so long as we are careful about regulating its use and distribution so as to ensure public safety. As attorney general, I would provide guidance to the legislature and law enforcement based on the best practices established by the handful of states that have already fully legalized marijuana.”

Aaron Goldstein (D)

“I believe marijuana should be legalized. One doesn’t have to be a user of marijuana to understand that the war on drugs—and the criminalization of marijuana in particular—has been an abysmal failure. Far too many of our citizens have been convicted and imprisoned for using marijuana, although little evidence exists to support our draconian drug laws. Ironically, rather than helping our citizens, criminalization of marijuana has encouraged the development of a huge and chaotic black market, with its inevitable consequences of gang violence and harm to many innocent bystanders.

“For these reasons, and based on the experience of other states that have legalized marijuana, I believe it is time to legalize marijuana in Illinois as well. It should be regulated—based on clear scientific evidence—to ensure that legal pot does not create any significant health or public safety risks to the people of Illinois and that the marijuana industry is run fairly and lawfully. As Attorney General, I will consult with attorneys general from states that have legalized marijuana to ensure that Illinois adopts best practices in the production, distribution and sales of marijuana, and that any tax revenue Illinois derives from the sale of marijuana is used for purposes that benefit all the people, not just the few who are politically connected.”

Gary Grasso (R)

“I have taken a strong stance on the opioid addiction issue. I could not in good conscience condone the legalization of marijuana and I would use the power of the Office of Attorney General to advocate against legalization of recreational marijuana. Marijuana is a gateway drug. It seems pretty clear to me that legalization of marijuana would lead to more problems associated with drug abuse.”

Erika Harold (R)

“Relevant stakeholders should begin the process of methodically analyzing and negotiating appropriate safeguards and regulatory frameworks for the legalization of marijuana for adult use in Illinois. This process should be approached with particular attention paid to protecting minors, providing sufficient mental health and substance abuse services, existing federal law and directives, and providing for proper testing protocol and equipment in marijuana-related automobile accidents. If approached in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, legalization should enable law enforcement officials to redirect their time and resources towards addressing more critical issues (such as the opioid epidemic), expand Illinois’ tax base, and decrease the number of people serving sentences for non-violent, marijuana-related offenses.”

Renato Mariotti (D)

“Our prisons are operating at 134 percent capacity, and there are nearly 43,000 individuals behind bars. Illinois will spend over $1.4 billion in the 2017 fiscal year incarcerating its citizens. Imprisoning non-violent marijuana users is not only morally misguided but a tremendous waste of resources. I support the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, with one important caveat. We need strict safeguards in place to prevent this from becoming another insider industry in Illinois where the privileged and politically connected succeed to the detriment of working people and small businesses.”

Pat Quinn (D)

“I support legalization of recreational marijuana so long as strict requirements are put in place to regulate its production, distribution and retail sale in order to ensure that health and safety are protected, avoid corruption, and ensure that applicable taxes are paid. When I was Governor, I signed the bill to legalize medical marijuana.”

Kwame Raoul (D)

“Illinois has moved in the direction of legalization by way of supporting the use of medical marijuana and expanding upon that to cover more ailments. We have also moved to decriminalize possession of small amounts for personal use. The logical extension of these policies is to move toward legalization in a manner that appropriately regulates manufacture and distribution while taxing it capture the new economic activity that would accompany recreational use.”

Nancy Rotering (D)

“The benefits of legalizing recreational marijuana outweigh the negatives. Legalizing recreational marijuana would significantly reduce prison crowding and lower the cost of law enforcement. Over 80% of drug-related arrests nationwide between 2001 and 2010 involved amounts for personal use only. Like alcohol, recreational marijuana should be regulated. It should not be sold to people under 21, its production should be regulated to ensure quality and diminish risks, and technology needs to be developed to assess drivers’ capacity and use, similar to breathalyzer tests for field use purposes.

“Illinois, along with 28 other states, passed legislation creating a medical cannabis program permitting patients with debilitating medical conditions to register with the state in order to access marijuana for medical use. As Illinois’ Attorney General, I would defend the state against any federal intrusion, and work to ensure that patients with medical conditions – including people with cancer, those who live with seizures, or veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – can continue to access the care they need. I would also pursue the feasibility of banks handling payments and related finances to ease the ability of patients to pay for their medication.”

Jesse Ruiz (D)

“I fully support legalization of recreational adult use in Illinois. As Attorney General, I will take every action available under law to protect Illinois’ right to make its own decisions about the legality of marijuana. I deplore U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent shortsighted decision to revoke the Obama Administration’s guidance on deferring to the states on marijuana enforcement. By rescinding the directive and offering nothing to take its place, Sessions has simply created chaos. I am especially concerned by the impacts of his actions on medical marijuana. The states have made it clear that legalized medical marijuana is supported by the vast majority of Americans. Especially as our nation confronts the horrifying opioid epidemic, it is critically important to find safe, effective alternatives for pain relief. Quite frankly, I cannot understand why Sessions would take an action that has triggered so much uncertainty throughout the industry and brought anxiety to patients who have come to rely on safe medical-grade cannabis products.

“If the General Assembly legalizes adult recreational use of marijuana in Illinois, I will work closely with the Legislature to develop a procedure to expunge the records of Illinoisans who have cannabis convictions on their records. I believe that California’s Prop. 64 offers a useful roadmap for petitioning to have their prior convictions reclassified or dismissed. Once a new law has been passed, I will hold a summit of county state’s attorneys and public defenders to begin the petition process for people who are being held by the Illinois Department of Corrections for marijuana-related crimes. Once an adult use bill is passed, Illinois should not be spending millions of dollars to incarcerate people for a crime that no longer exists.”

Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

Bipartisan Lawmakers Tell DEA To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries

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A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House and Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department on Friday, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.

The letter, led by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), cites feedback from federal health agencies, which have said that existing restrictions on cannabis have inhibited research. One problem in particular is that there’s only one federally authorized manufacturer of research-grade marijuana.

While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that it is in the process of approving additional manufacturers, it’s been more than three years since they first announced that applications for more growers would be accepted and, more recently, the agency said it would have to develop alternative rules to approve proposals that have been submitted.

“At the same time, the status quo does not address a barrier to research raised by both [the National Institutes of Health] and [the Food and Drug Administration],” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter. That barrier is a ban on researchers being able to obtain marijuana from dispensaries.

“Both agencies recommended that researchers should be able to obtain cannabis from state-legal sources,” the letter states.

Further, the lawmakers said that there are “problems in industry development of licensed drugs with data from products obtained from third-parties, such as the University of Mississippi.”

“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” they wrote.

“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions.”

The lack of chemical diversity in the federal government’s cannabis supply has been repeatedly pointed out. One study found that the research-grade cannabis is more similar to hemp than marijuana in commercial markets.

To resolve the research issues, the coalition made two recommendations: 1) to amend internal policy “so as to allow researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state authorized dispensaries for research purposes” and 2) issue guidance clarifying that hemp researchers do not need a DEA license to obtain and study hemp because it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

The letter requests a response from DEA by December 20.

A total of 21 members of Congress signed the letter, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA) Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).

“Our nation’s cannabis research laws are archaic,” Rouda said in a press release. “Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products.”

“I thank Senator Schatz, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for joining me to make this common-sense request,” he said. “It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.”

Attorney General William Barr received a similar letter from lawmakers about the need to expand the number of federally authorized marijuana cultivators in April.

Read the lawmakers’ full letter on expanding marijuana research below:

FINAL Letter to DOJ Re. Can… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

People Are Skipping Sleep Aids In Favor of Marijuana, Study Reports

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Oregon Activists Begin Signature Gathering For 2020 Drug Decriminalization Initiative

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Oregon activists have begun collecting signatures for a statewide initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs.

Three months after petitioners quietly submitted the proposed ballot measure—titled the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” (DATRA)—the signature gathering process has started, with organizers deployed to Portland to raise support.

A long road lies before the activists, who need to collect 112,020 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Funding and polling will decide whether they mount a full push for the decriminalization measure in the months to come.

To that end, their efforts are being helped by David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, who told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he will be investing $250,000 in the decriminalization campaign. An additional $500,000 will go to a separate Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which backed Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, is also supporting this new effort to make low-level drug possession an infraction punishable by a $100 fine with no jail time, rather than a misdemeanor. It remains to be seen how involved in the campaign DPA will be, however.

Peter Zuckerman, a chief petitioner for the decriminalization initiative, told OregonLive on Thursday that it’s not guaranteed that the campaign will proceed and that much rides on how much money the group can raise, whether there’s public support for the reform move and how staff recruitment comes together.

He said the main thrust of the measure is to take a “health-based approach to drug addiction rather than a criminal justice-based approach.”

The proposal caught the attention of Oregon’s teachers’ union, which said that it supports decriminalizing drug possession but wrote in a comment submitted to the secretary of state in October that it was not taking an official position because it’s concerned about another provision that would shift cannabis tax revenue away from schools.

DATRA would make it so most of that revenue would be used to fund addiction treatment programs.

At the same time that activists are collecting signatures and weighing whether to move ahead with the broad decriminalization initiative, another advocacy group is pushing for a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use, allowing individuals to receive treatment with the psychedelic fungus at licensed health facilities. The group launched its signature drive in September.

Advocates in Portland are also hoping to advance a local measure to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics such as ayahuasca and ibogaine.

Bronner wrote in a blog post that the decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin legalization campaigns are “already coordinating closely and conserving resources on the statewide signature drive.”

He told Marijuana Moment that “we see this as the perfect one two punch in Oregon, legalizing psilocybin therapy that has so much promise for treating drug addiction, at the same time Oregon shifts to a treatment not jail approach.”

“And 100 percent confident it’s coming together,” he said.

All of this comes amid a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics, with activists in almost 100 cities across the U.S. considering pushing for reduced penalties for substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Decriminalize Nature, which is aiding in and tracking these efforts, is also receiving donations from Bronner, he said.

Decriminalization is also gaining traction on the national stage, with two presidential candidates—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—voicing support for the policy change. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, another candidate, recently said that he’s open to broad decriminalization, while entrepreneur Andrew Yang backs decriminalizing opioids.

Scientist Talks Benefits Of Psychedelics At Federal Health Agency Event

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North Dakota Activists Submit Measure To Legalize Marijuana In 2020

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North Dakota activists submitted a measure to legalize marijuana for adult use to state officials on Thursday, an organizer confirmed to Marijuana Moment.

Legalize ND, the group behind the proposed statutory initiative, delivered the measure to the secretary of state’s office. It’s expected to be validated within days, after which point petitions will be distributed to collect signatures in support of qualifying for the 2020 ballot.

It’s been about a year since organizers began working on the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis for personal use. The proposal is more narrowly tailored than a legalization initiative from the same organization that voters rejected in 2018, however.

The previous version didn’t include any restrictions on cultivation or possession, and it didn’t involve a licensing scheme. By contrast, the new measure would prohibit home cultivation, limit possession to two ounces, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

“One of the largest complaints from last time was the mantra of ‘poorly written,'” Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “They targeted the lack of legal experience from our team and they targeted a lack of ‘qualified lawyers’ to be drafting language that would go into the state’s statutory law.”

But he said he’s confident the campaign will be successful this time around, in part because they spent months drafting the language with the North Dakota Legislative Council.

Asked what he’d say to voters still on the fence about legalization, Owen replied that it would depend on what their initial concerns were:

“If it’s a concern over home grow, well it’s simple, we don’t have that anymore. If it’s a concern of people having too much, we have a reasonable possession limit now—in their eyes, I still think possession limits are fundamentally arbitrary, but they wanted a possession limit so we have that now. If people go, ‘well what about the quality of the language?’ I can point to how it’s literally written by Legislative Council, so either every attorney who works for the state of North Dakota is incompetent or this is well written.”

In order to qualify for next year’s ballot, the group must collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6, 2020.

“I think the most important thing isn’t what it would do, but what it would stop from happening,” Owen told local radio station KFGO on Wednesday. “We currently have a system where people are unable to find a job because of a criminal record, we have a system where people are continuing to get marijuana charges and lose their housing, we have families being separated because of parents losing custody over their children for marijuana charges. That all stops when this is legalized.”

Listen to Owen’s radio interview about the new marijuana ballot measure below:

Internal polling that received outside funding, which Owen said cannot be publicly released because of the wishes of the donor, shows the initiative is “slightly ahead” among voters.

In an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment in February, Owen said that it’s “very probable that we can do it” this time around, but much of that depended on the extent to which opposition campaigns are involved and how much funding outside groups are able to offer.

Currently, North Dakota has a medical cannabis program, and the governor signed legislation in May decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession.

Marijuana Summit Will Give Virginia Governor ‘More Tools’ To Back Legalization, Attorney General Says

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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