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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.

If you value staying updated on cannabis news, please start a monthly Patreon pledge to support Marijuana Moment!

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 serves as chairman of 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

Voters In Key Congressional Districts Support Marijuana Legalization, Poll Says

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With many key congressional races rated as “toss ups” by political observers, either major party could end up controlling of the U.S. House of Representatives after this November’s midterm elections.

A new poll identifies one thing that can help Republican or Democratic candidates come out ahead: Embracing marijuana legalization.

The polling firm Lake Research Partners surveyed 800 likely 2018 general election voters in 60 so-called “battleground districts,” finding that 60 percent support ending cannabis prohibition. Only 36 percent are opposed.

Medical marijuana is even more popular, with 79 percent of voters in these swing districts on board.

More to the point for politicians looking to win elections, the survey showed that 44 percent of battleground voters say they would be more more likely to vote for a candidate who supports legalization, including 26 percent who say they would be “much” more likely. Only 33 percent said they would be less likely to back a pro-legalization candidate.

The survey was conducted in February but is being released on Tuesday at Washington, D.C. event sponsored by MedMen Enterprises, a cannabis dispensary chain that commissioned the poll.

Another key finding is that 55 percent of voters say they would be “more likely” to vote if a marijuana initiative was on the ballot in their state.

The survey also tested the effectiveness of various arguments concerning legalization, determining that “the strongest pro-legalization message frame highlights how we need legalization to repair the financial and moral damage of the failed war on drugs,” according to a polling memo prepared by the firm.

Several other recent national polls have found majority support for marijuana legalization, but the new results narrowed down to key swing districts are likely to warrant special attention from candidates and political operatives.

Support for Marijuana Legalization At Record High, New Survey Shows

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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Congressional Committee Blocks Marijuana Votes (Again)

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Lawmakers on a key congressional committee once again blocked colleagues in the full House from being able to vote on marijuana-related amendments.

One proposed measure, filed last week, would have allowed Washington, D.C. to legally tax and regulate retail marijuana sales and another would have prevented federal regulators from penalizing federal banks from working with businesses and individuals in the legal cannabis industry.

But on Monday evening, the Republican-controlled Rules Committee, led by Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX), continued its recent tradition of preventing floor votes on any and all measures to scale back federal cannabis prohibition.

“Everyone who knows that Congress has a responsibility to at least debate these issues should unite and help Pete Sessions find another line of work,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who cosponsored both cannabis measures, told Marijuana Moment in a statement.

Sessions’s Texas district, which Hillary Clinton won in 2016, is currently considered a “toss up” by political analysts in this November’s midterm elections.

Before Monday, his panel had blocked at least 34 other cannabis-related amendments from reaching the floor for votes during the current Congress. The full House of Representatives has not been allowed to consider marijuana reform proposals since the spring of 2016.

Analysis: GOP Congress Has Blocked Dozens Of Marijuana Amendments

Bipartisan groups of lawmakers cosponsored both new cannabis measures, which they were seeking to attach to legislation to fund parts of the federal government through Fiscal Year 2019.

(A third marijuana-related measure considered on Monday proposes shifting money away from forest and rangeland research toward “eradicating, enforcing, and remediating illegal marijuana grow operations on National Forest System land.” That measure was cleared for a floor vote, likely sometime this week.)

“Our federal laws are outdated. The people in this country want the law to treat marijuana as we do alcohol,” Congressman Denny Heck (D-WA), said in testimony about his marijuana banking amendment. “These large sums of cash make dispensaries an obvious target for robberies.”

He recounted the story of Travis Mason, a 24-year-old Marine veteran who was killed during a 2016 robbery at a Colorado marijuana dispensary where he was serving as a security guard.

“He managed to survive his service in the United States Marine Corps, but he didn’t survive his job guarding a store here at home,” Heck said.

“If we do nothing, this is bound to happen again.”

The D.C. measure was filed by Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia.

“This rider has unintentionally benefited violent drug gangs,” Norton said of current policy in her testimony before the Rules Committee. “For that reason, some refer to it as the ‘Drug Dealer Protection Act.’ As one marijuana dealer told the Washington Post, the rider is ‘a license for me to print money.’ Regulating marijuana like alcohol would allow D.C., instead of drug dealers, to control production, distribution, sales and revenues.”

Under a ballot measure approved by D.C. voters in 2014, low-level marijuana possession and home cultivation is legal. But because of an ongoing federal appropriations rider enacted in past years and included in the new FY19 bill, local officials have been prevented from adding a system of taxed and regulated cannabis sales.

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), a member of the Rules Committee, specifically moved during the meeting Monday night to make the amendment on cannabis businesses’ access to banks in order for a floor vote, but that was defeated by a party-line vote of 8 – 2.

The marijuana banking measure had 22 cosponsors, more than any of the 276 other measures the Rules Committee considered this week. Eighty-seven amendments were cleared for floor consideration.

Congress Could Vote On These Marijuana Amendments Next Week (Unless GOP Blocks Them Again)

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Sen. Jeff Merkley “Disappointed” That Democrats Blocked His Marijuana Banking Amendment

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One of the U.S. Senate’s foremost champions for marijuana law reform says he is “disappointed” that fellow Democrats recently joined with Republicans in blocking his amendment to increase cannabis businesses’ access to banks.

Last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered a measure that would have shielded banks that open accounts for state-legal marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators for that activity even though cannabis remains illegal under federal law.

While the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved two similar amendments in previous years, the panel this time voted to table the measure with a bipartisan vote of 21 – 10, with ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other Democrats who normally support marijuana reform objecting on procedural grounds.

“I was disappointed,” Merkley said in an interview with BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith on Monday. “We had passed this twice before.”

“We need to establish banking for cannabis because a cash economy is an invitation to money laundering and theft and cheating your employees and cheating on your taxes [and] organized crime. All bad.”

“I accompanied the owner of a company who had $70,000 in his backpack to pay quarterly taxes,” Merkley recounted in response to the cannabis banking question on Monday, which was suggested to BuzzFeed by Marijuana Moment’s editor. “It’s so bizarre going down the freeway and talking about how they have to pay their employees in cash, have to pay their suppliers in cash. It’s a bad system.”

“Everyone should agree: States’ rights on this. Let the states have an electronic system to track what these businesses are doing, not billions of dollars floating around like this.”

Despite his disappointment with the measure being blocked, the Oregon Democrat, who is believed to be considering a 2020 presidential run, said that his colleagues “had a fair point to make on the policy front” in tabling the measure.

At the time, Leahy argued that spending bills such as the one before the committee should be kept “free of new controversial policy riders” and that a more appropriate forum would be an authorizing committee that sets banking laws.

“It wasn’t existing policy and therefore it was new policy,” Merkley acknowledged in the new interview.

But he pointed out that there are few other avenues available for senators to pursue the issue.

“Here’s the thing. Normally we could take these policy bills like I was putting forward [and] you could put it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to something,” he said. “In 2017, outside of the budget process, not a single amendment was considered on the floor of the Senate… This is the end of the Senate really as a deliberative body on policy. So if you’re blocked in the Appropriations Committee, and you’re blocked on the floor, then it’s very hard to put ideas out there and say, ‘Hey vote on this. This matters.'”

The House Appropriations Committee also defeated a cannabis banking amendment last month.

See the video of Merkley’s remarks at about 19:15 into the clip below:

Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.

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