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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

GOP Senator Reveals What Trump Said About Jeff Sessions’s Anti-Marijuana Moves

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President Donald Trump immediately rebuked then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the day that he rescinded Justice Department guidance on federal marijuana enforcement priorities, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) revealed during an interview on the Cannabis Economy podcast earlier this month.

Following a meeting on trade and tariffs in the Oval Office, Gardner pulled Trump aside to express his opposition to the rescission of the Obama-era cannabis document known as the Cole Memo. But before he could finish his sentence, the president interrupted to say “we need undo this” and “[Sessions] needs to stop this.”

“It was very clear to me at that point that there was a disagreement between the president and the attorney general on this,” Gardner said. Trump also said, “I don’t like this, this isn’t something I support,” but that it was too late to reverse the decision.

“This sounds like something my grandpa said in the 1950s,” was an exact phrase the president used, per Gardner’s recollection.

“At that point I realized that there was an ally in the president on this.”

In response to Sessions’s decision, Gardner started blocking Justice Department nominees until he received assurances that the federal government would not take enforcement action against legal cannabis businesses operating in compliance with state laws. That blockage prompted a subsequent phone call with the president, who said there was one nominee in particular he wanted to confirm.

Listen to Gardner’s interview with the Cannabis Economy podcast below:

Gardner explained why he was holding nominees, to which Trump replied, “OK, you’ve got my commitment to support the bill, you’ve got my commitment to support a solution on this,” referring to bipartisan legislation Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from enforcement under the Controlled Substance Act.

Trump later told reporters that he “really” supports the legislation, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act.

During his conversation with the president, Gardner cautioned that states like Colorado would be put in jeopardy if the Justice Department followed through on Sessions’s threats. But Trump said, “we’re not going to do that, it doesn’t mean anything.”

“That was the commitment from the president not only on showing that he’s going to disagree with Jeff Sessions, but actually saying, ‘don’t worry about what he’s done because it won’t impact Colorado,’ and then moving forward down for a solution,” Gardner said.

Sessions resigned from his position at the president’s request in November, and the Senate confirmed his replacement, William Barr earlier this month. Barr was repeatedly pressed about how he would approach federal cannabis policy during his confirmation hearing and in followup questions, and he made consistent pledges not to use Justice Department resources to “go after” state-legal marijuana businesses.

He did, however, encourage Congress to resolve conflicting federal and state cannabis laws through legislative action.

Trump Issues Signing Statement On Medical Marijuana Provision Of Funding Bill

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

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Five Governors Talk Marijuana And Hemp At Media Conference

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The governors of five states weighed in on marijuana and hemp during appearances at Politico’s ninth annual “State Solutions” conference on Friday.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said hemp should be regulated “just like any crop” and emphasized that he wants his state to continue to expand its legal hemp and marijuana economies. The pro-legalization governor, who pledged to make Colorado the nation’s leader in industrial hemp production during his State of the State address last month, also pulled out a business card printed on hemp paper during the event.

Then the conversation pivoted to broader federal cannabis policy. Polis said “there’s an existential threat to everything we’re doing in Colorado” because of the lack of formal protections against federal intervention in state marijuana laws.

“Obviously the counterbalance to that is the federal government—even if they somehow did make this more of an enforcement priority—don’t have the ability on the ground to prosecute so many people,” he said.

“I hope that they can either reinstate something like the Cole memorandum or, even better, that Congress can finally move forward with changing the laws and leaving it up to the states,” the governor said, referring to Obama-era marijuana enforcement guidance that then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded last year.

Polis also said that if the state got wind of pending federal enforcement, “it would be of great concern and we would bring that to the highest levels of the White House.”

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), whose constituents voted to legalize medical marijuana during November’s midterm election, was asked what he thought about allowing the use of medical cannabis to treat opioid addiction.

“I think everybody would like to have any kind of medicine that will help alleviate pain and suffering,” including opioid dependence, he said. But he said the federal government was at fault for failing to address cannabis rescheduling in order to enhance clinical research into the plant’s therapeutic benefits.

“We ought to change the law, allow it to be studied,” he said. “What are we afraid of?”

And South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) discussed the state’s possible legalization of industrial hemp. She said it was important to wait for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release “federal guidelines” on hemp production first and also to ensure that the state has the money and resources to regulate the crop.

The conversation comes after Noem urged the state Senate to postpone a scheduled hearing on an industrial hemp cultivation bill, a request the body ultimately agreed to earlier this week. The legislation passed the House in a 62-5 vote last week.

During the interview, Noem also expressed concerns generally about the lack of roadside drug tests to determine impaired driving from marijuana, and she said it’s important as governor to consider the public safety ramifications” of an industrial hemp market.

The second session of the conference featured Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D), who also spoke about cannabis.

Brown touted the legal cannabis industry and said it has stimulated job growth in Oregon, where she said about 20,000 people work for marijuana and hemp businesses. It should be a “top priority” for Congress to ensure that the cannabis industry has access to banking services, she said.

The Connecticut governor reiterated his belief that the state will legalize marijuana and “do it right” during his interview.

Without a regulated cannabis system, the illicit market will continue to thrive and people are already “driving over the border” to Massachusetts, where adult use is legal, so “that train has left the station,” he said. A significant portion of the Connecticut House has already signed onto an adult use legalization bill

But the existing system breeds “disrespect for the law,” Lamont added. What’s more, cannabis enforcement disproportionately targets communities of color, which is part of the reason that he considers legalization a “criminal justice issue.”

Legalization legislation should also involve expunging the records of individuals with prior cannabis convictions, he said.

Lamont revealed that he’s talked to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), who has recently and reluctantly embraced reform in response to neighboring states moving to legalize, and that the two agreed to work together to create effective marijuana systems in their respective states.

This story was updated to add comments from Brown and Lamont.

Two More Governors Call For Marijuana Legalization During Budget Speeches

Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.

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Florida Senator Wants To Let Voters Decide On Marijuana Legalization

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A joint resolution introduced in the Florida Senate on Thursday would add a new section to the Florida Constitution to establish the right “to possess, use and cultivate cannabis.”

“This right may not be infringed, except that the transfer of cannabis by purchase or sale may be regulated by law as necessary to ensure public health and safety,” reads the measure, which would apply to adults over 21 years of age.

If approved by lawmakers, the question would go before voters in the 2020 general election.

The resolution, introduced by Sen. Randolph Bracy (D) of Orlando, comes as Florida lawmakers weigh other bills that would expand the allowable forms of medical marijuana in the state.

“I think if we just go straight to the people and ask them, ‘is this something that you want,’ it puts the onus back on us to regulate it,” Bracy told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “I think it’s such a controversial issue that the legislature is not in a position to agree on how it should be regulated. The best way to do it is to go through the people and then it will come back to us to figure out how to regulate it.”

“I’ve always thought the people are more progressive on this issue than the legislature is and I believe they are ready for legalization of marijuana. Whenever I hear from folks, it’s always a resounding ‘yes.’”

Under regulations instituted after voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016, patients are prohibited from smoking the drug. But new Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has called on lawmakers to change that, threatening to drop the state’s appeal of a lawsuit seeking to over turn the ban if the legislature doesn’t act by mid-March.

While a House bill would prohibit the smoking of medical marijuana by those under 18, another bill in the Senate allows patients under 18 to smoke only if two doctors agree it to be the best method.

The two proposals are expected to receive floor votes in their respective chambers within the next few weeks.

“From the House perspective, the biggest sticking point is children,” State Rep. Ray Rodrigues told Florida Politics. “We don’t believe children should be smoking medical marijuana…but we’re having conversations.”

The 2016 ballot measure added language in the state constitution allowing the use of medical cannabis by those with cancer, AIDS/HIV, epilepsy or other conditions as determined by their doctor. Two years earlier, a similar measure got majority support from voters but fell short of the 60 percent threshold required to pass.

If Bracy’s full legalization amendment advances to the ballot, it appears to have a good chance of passing. A poll last year found that Florida registered voters support “legalizing and regulating marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, limiting its sale to residents 21 years of age or older” by a margin of 62 percent to 35 percent.

Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved By Key New Hampshire House Committee

This story has been updated to add comment from Bracy.

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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