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Thorner: Illinois’ misguided path toward legalizing marijuana



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By Nancy Thorner - 

The effort to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposed in Illinois had its beginning back in 2010 through Senate Bill 1381. Its main sponsor was Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie). The bill would have allowed Illinois residents to possess marijuana to treat the symptoms of AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and other illnesses, if the patient gets a note from their doctor stating they need to use marijuana. 

Following an impassioned debate of Senate Bill 1381 on the House floor, Lang pulled the proposal off the floor at the last minute when a vote came up just shy of the 60 votes needed for passage.  As State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Greenville) and licensed pharmacist said at the time: “In states that have legalized medical marijuana, evidence has shown us clearly that it is not about treating ailments and disorders, it is about making marijuana available. This should be called the marijuana possession bill.”

Three years later in 2013 Illinois did legalize medical marijuana in House Bill 1 ((61-57 H; 35-21 S), which allowed 2.5 ounces of usable cannabis during a period of 14 days. A Medical Expansion bill signed by Governor Rauner in 2018, SB 336, significantly changed the state medical cannabis program. Among several key changes, the measure allows anyone who could obtain a prescription for an opioid medication to get regulated access to medical cannabis. It also greatly streamlines the process by allowing applicants to get preliminary authorization with a physician’s recommendation, shortening wait times by several weeks. The program also no longer requires all applicants to submit fingerprints to the state health department. And finally, the state program no longer bars those with criminal histories from access to medical cannabis. The new law represents an incredible series of improvements. 

According to potguide.com there are 55 medical marijuana dispensaries in Illinois.

Illinois on path to legalize recreational marijuana

With Michigan leading the way for recreational marijuana in the Midwest, many Illinois legislators are anxious to make Illinois next.

The catalyst for legal recreational Cannabis here in Illinois was the landslide victory of J.B Pritzker in the November midterms, also endorsed by Speaker Michael Madigan. Madigan.  Former governor Bruce Rauner opposed the move to legalize marijuana.

During Gov. J.B. Pritzker inaugural address on Monday, January 15, 2019 in Springfield he said:  

“In the interests of keeping the public safe from harm, expanding true justice in our criminal justice system, and advancing economic inclusion, I will work with the legislature to legalize, tax and regulate the sale of recreational cannabis in Illinois.”

With Democrats controlling the governor’s office and both legislative chambers, it is little wonder that advocates believe it’s an opportune time to propose legislation to legalize marijuana.

Then too, public attitude has changed since 2010 when medical marijuana was first introduced in IL by Democrat Representative Louis Lang and failed.  According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 60% of Americans support full legalization — a drastic increase from 36% in 2005 — despite the federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug.  According to dea.gov: “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Governor Pritzker can legalize recreational marijuana simply by signing legislation passed by lawmakers in the general assembly. Illinois residents do not have to vote to approve the measure.  Other states, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, have legalized adult cannabis through voter ballot measures.

Bills introduced to legalize recreational marijuana

A Democratic state lawmaker, Rep. Carol Ammons of Urbana, IL filed the first bill in 2019 to legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois on January 25, that likely goes further than other legislators prefer, but it officially started the debate. 

Ammons' bill would allow licensed businesses to grow and sell pot, and residents to grow up to 24 plants at home, but it's unlikely to pass in favor of a bill that has been in the works for more than a year by Illinois State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Illinois State Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago).  Although introduced last year, Steans and Cassidy held off seeking passage until this year, anticipating the election of Governor Pritzker and his willingness to legalize recreational marijuana. 

After negotiating with various parties such as other lawmakers, the governor’s office and law enforcement, on Wednesday, March 27th, Senator Steans and Representative Cassidy introduced identical legislation in both General Assembly chambers to legalize and tax recreational marijuana for adults in the state. 

Senate Bill 316 and House Bill 2353 would legalize the possession of up to 28 grams of marijuana and allow facilities to sell marijuana products for adults over 21 and tax those sales "in a manner similar to alcohol."

The bill also calls for marijuana to be regulated in similar ways as alcohol, thus requiring purchasers to show proof of age, sales to anyone under 21 would be illegal, driving under the influence would remain a crime and any marijuana sold in the state would be subject to testing, labeling and regulation as a consumer protection measure.

Steans also said the taxes collected from legal marijuana sales would help plug holes in the state budget, which is the most common argument for full legalization, eliminating the need to spend so much money arresting, trying and imprisoning buyers and sellers, as well as the huge tax revenue increases from marijuana sales.

But does Steans’ argument hold true for Illinois?  Gov. J.B. Pritzker's budget, as proposed on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, relies on tax revenues from marijuana and betting, but according to Pritzker: 

"Even if the Legislature agrees to legalize marijuana, the first-year tax revenue would not exceed $1 billion". . . . “We should take this action for our state because of the beneficial criminal and social justice implications and the jobs it will create.  And let’s be honest, like it or not, cannabis is readily available right now. I would rather the state tax it and regulate it.”

The Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University commissioned a study to better understand the economic and social costs of legalized marijuana.  Its report dated Nov. 19, 2018, indicated that for every dollar in tax revenue Colorado gains, it costs them $4.50 to mitigate the effects.     

It would be wise for Governor Pritzker, Speaker Madigan, and Illinois legislators to look at a report of the National Bureau of Economic research, Consequences of Legalizing Marijuana, citing: Legalization increases both marijuana use and marijuana abuse/dependence in people 21 or older.

Most importantly, as addressed in this article by Dr. Sushrut, Can We all Please Stop Pretending that Marijuana is Harmless.

The devastating effects, especially on young people, will be covered in a forthcoming article.


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  1. Excellent overview of the libertarian push for legalizing all drugs. Marijuana is dangerous, more dangerous than anyone understands and is far stronger today than it was in the 60s. It also causes many side effect illnesses with daily smoking and can cause testicular cancer in the young men who constantly smoke. Colorado has seen an increase in devastating problems with their legalization of recreational pot. Please understand how dangerous this drug really is…thank you for writing this Nancy!