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.
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.)
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.”
We need to legalize, not criminalize cannabis. It's time for us to radically reform our justice system so that it works for the rest of us. pic.twitter.com/99b7UO1pUC
— Daniel Biss (@DanielBiss) February 4, 2018
Marijuana policy is fundamentally a question of justice. As governor, I’ll fight for legalization. pic.twitter.com/58c3uAFmhQ
— Daniel Biss (@DanielBiss) January 22, 2018
— Daniel Biss (@DanielBiss) February 25, 2018
Hey Jeff Sessions, stop trying to drag us back into the 1980's—the War on Drugs was a failed and backwards policy. It's time to stop clinging to antiquated thinking and allow states to legalize marijuana: https://t.co/CbvdNrTUVr
— Daniel Biss (@DanielBiss) January 4, 2018
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.”
Fully support legalization. This is a business that has a lot of potential development. It must be a referendum voted on by the people to legalize recreational marijuana.
— Bob Daiber (@BobDaiber) February 19, 2018
Today I present to you my regulatory structure for marijuana sales in the state of Illinois. As governor of IL, I will sign legislation if the public votes in support of legalization. You deserve to know what the legal marijuana industry would look like. #ilgov #marijuana #twill pic.twitter.com/lbVvzwHUBo
— Bob Daiber (@BobDaiber) February 20, 2018
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.”
“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.”
Joseph, we will build a cannabis system that ensures medical availability, reduces unneeded incarceration and creates a safe marketplace for all. Thank you for your support. https://t.co/Rjx2uQMUiA
— Chris Kennedy (@KennedyforIL) February 26, 2018
“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.”
Our state should legalize marijuana. This is not a moment for a governor who stands with Donald Trump. pic.twitter.com/HTHObxJU5V
— JB Pritzker (@JBPritzker) January 12, 2018
As governor, I will stand up to Donald Trump’s attacks on Illinois communities, legalize marijuana, and modernize sentencing guidelines to create a criminal justice system that gives all Illinoisans a chance to reach their full potential.
— JB Pritzker (@JBPritzker) January 4, 2018
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 Isn’t Addictive, Former A.G. Eric Holder Says
The nation’s former top law enforcement officer is not worried that the legalization of marijuana will lead to addiction.
“I’ve never seen any scientific evidence that points you to concerns about addiction through the use of marijuana,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an interview published on Friday by NY1.
The comments by the former A.G. call into question cannabis’s current status as a Schedule I drug. That category is supposed to be reserved only for substances with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. In fact, it would mean that marijuana should be moved to at least Schedule III, where drugs with “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” are categorized.
Although Holder did not move to reclassify cannabis when he had the power to do so as attorney general, he did specifically endorse such a change just months after leaving office.
“I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled,” he said in a 2015 interview with PBS.
And he still feels the same way.
“We need to move marijuana from Schedule I, so research can be done,” Holder said in the new NY1 interview. “It is classified now on the same level as heroin is, and clearly that is inappropriate.”
While he did nothing to officially recategorize marijuana as attorney general — and continually passed the buck to Congress when asked about the issue — Holder’s Justice Department did issue guidance, known as the Cole Memo, which generally allowed states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference.
Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo earlier this year.
In the new interview, Holder said he thinks the federal government should continue letting states implement their own legalization laws.
“Let those be laboratories to see where we want to be,” he said. “I think if you allow the states to experiment we’ll ultimately come to a national consensus about what it is we ought to do with regard to marijuana.”
He also spoke about unfair enforcement of cannabis criminalization.
“One of the things that I am concerned about, though, is the racial disparity you see in the enforcement of marijuana laws,” he said. “You see African Americans, Latinos using marijuana at just about the same rates as whites, and yet seeing rates of arrest four, five times as great as it is for whites. That is something that I think is extremely troubling.”
Photo courtesy of US Embassy New Zealand.
Congressional Committee Protects Medical Marijuana From Jeff Sessions
A powerful congressional panel voted on Thursday to continue shielding medical marijuana patients and providers who comply with state laws from prosecution by the federal government.
While the provision has been federal law since 2014, when it was first attached to legislation that funds the U.S. Department of Justice, its continuance has been in question because of recent efforts by Republican leadership to prevent votes on cannabis amendments. But in a stunning bipartisan move, the House Appropriations Committee voted to add the provision as a rider to legislation funding U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s department for Fiscal Year 2019.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congressional Republicans Block Votes On Hemp Amendments
In the latest development in a series of anti-cannabis moves, congressional Republican leadership has blocked consideration of several industrial hemp amendments.
Supporters were seeking to attach the measures to the large-scale Farm Bill, which sets food and agriculture policy for the country, but the House Rules Committee on Wednesday decided that the proposals cannot be considered on the floor.
The anti-cannabis chairman of the panel did, however, reveal that a broader deal for industrial hemp might be in the works.
One of the measures the committee killed, submitted by Reps. James Comer (R-KY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), along with a bipartisan list of cosponsors, would have legalized hemp and made it eligible for crop insurance.
“Hemp is a crop with a long and rich history in our country,” Comer said in introducing his amendment before the committee. “It was grown by many of our founding fathers.”
Comer, who is a former Kentucky agriculture commissioner, said his state’s existing industrial hemp research program, which is authorized under a previous Farm Bill enacted in 2014, “has been a great success.”
He also spoke about the economic potential of the plant. “Times are tough in rural america,” he said. “For rural Kentuckians, industrial hemp has provided a new crop and business opportunity.”
But in a party-line move, the committee voted 8 to 3 to reject a motion to add Comer’s amendment to the list of proposals approved for floor consideration.
Another hemp amendment, filed by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Jared Polis (D-CO), would have removed hemp from the list of federally banned substances.
A third proposal, submitted by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), sought to create “a safe harbor for financial institutions that provide services to hemp legitimate businesses” that operate under state-authorized research programs.
“There is a proud history in American and in Kentucky [for hemp] as an agriculture product,” Barr said when testifying for his amendment, noting that it can be used in over 25,000 products.
Under current law, banks that work with legitimate hemp companies “fear reprisal from federal regulators,” Barr said, arguing that his proposed measure would protect financial institutions “from unnecessary interference from bank examiners and regulators” and give producers rights that “every other American crop enjoys.”
The committee did not hold specific votes on those two measures.
Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) has made a consistent practice of blocking cannabis measures from advancing over the past several years.
Sessions, seemingly mistakenly, told Comer during the Wednesday hearing that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has “a clause…that industrial hemp should be declassified under their Schedule I drugs, which they concur, which is the position you hold, too.”
A hemp lobbyist told Marijuana Moment in an email that he had not heard of the DEA taking a pro-hemp position.
Polis, who as a Rules Committee member made the unsuccessful motion to let the full House vote on Comer’s amendment, argued that hemp is a “common sense area” that enjoys bipartisan support. The measure, he said, would simply “treat industrial hemp as the agricultural commodity that it is.”
While Sessions and other GOP panel members were not swayed, the chairman did hint just before the vote that there may still be hope for hemp reform, saying that the issue would be “determined by an agreement that would be reached” with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
McConnell last month filed a hemp legalization bill, which Comer’s amendment closely modeled. Fully a fifth of the Senate is now signed on as cosponsoring that legislation, and the majority leader has already announced plans to attach his hemp language to the version of the Farm Bill being considered by the Senate this month.
While it is unclear what exactly Sessions was suggesting when he referred to an “agreement” with McConnell, it may have been a reference to the conference committee process that will merge the House and Senate’s respective versions of the Farm Bill into a single proposal after each chamber passes its legislation. If McConnell succeeds in attaching hemp legalization to the Senate bill, it would then be up for consideration as part of the final legislation sent to President Trump for signing into law.
In 2014, McConnell successfully inserted a provision to prevent federal interference in hemp research programs in that year’s version of the Farm Bill.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.