SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois is one step closer to legalizing recreational marijuana after the November election. The Chicago Tribune reported that the Illinois Senate Executive Committee debated recreational marijuana at a hearing on Wednesday.
The Senate Executive Committee debated legalizing recreational marijuana at the State Capitol and decided on adding a non-binding question on the next ballot to ask residents in the state if they are in support of regulating recreational marijuana like alcohol and tobacco.
The responses do not bind the lawmakers to enact any laws, but the opinion of voters in the state may be a deciding factor in whether legislators consider future referendums amending the Constitution to legalize marijuana, because the state historically changes laws based on referendums. Cook County already has a question on the ballot for the primary on March 20, where 70 percent of voters support legalizing marijuana.
Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) said that the legislation asks the voter if they would support taxing and regulating marijuana the same way alcohol and tobacco are taxed and regulated for people 21 and older, adding that it would be inviting the public into the debate to "give them an opportunity to register their opinion." The senator also mentioned that referendums are how other states that have legalized marijuana began. The state of Vermont is the only state to legalize pot through legislation.
The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police opposes recreational marijuana legalization. Executive director Ed Wojcicki worries that legalizing marijuana will increase drug use in teenagers. Gov. Bruce Rauner also opposes recreational marijuana legalization.
Bipartisan Group of Politicians Supports Legalization
Advocates of the legislation say that the income generated by legalizing recreational weed could save on law enforcement resources, reduce the budget deficit, and increase tax revenue for the state. State Sen. Jason Barickman, (R-Bloomington) is a supporter of legalizing marijuana and has said in the past that legalization is inevitable and that conservatives need to be involved in the debate as well as writing legislation.
Barickman and other advocates also think that marijuana legalization could help fight the opioid epidemic. There has never been an overdose on marijuana, but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40 people die daily from prescription drugs, prompting doctors in Illinois to declare opiates a danger to the state. Supporters believe that marijuana can help addicts kick their opioid habit, and there is evidence to support their claims.
State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) also supports marijuana legalization and introduced legislation that would permit patients to have medical marijuana prescriptions instead of prescription painkillers for any medical illness. The Alternatives to Opioids Act was passed in February by the Senate Executive Committee and will now be considered by the full Senate. Medical marijuana has been available in Illinois for two years.
More than 60,000 people died nationwide from opioid overdoses in 2017, prompting an Illinois judge to order officials to add intractable pain to the list of qualifying conditions to receive medical marijuana recently. Cook County Judge Raymond Mitchell made the ruling in January, and many advocates believe that the ability for patients to access medical marijuana will decrease the overdose rate in the state.
The legislation to ask voters ballot questions in the next election will have to pass both the House and Senate to make it on the November ballot. ABC 7 News Chicago reported that a recent poll conducted by Southern Illinois University found that more than 74 percent of voters in the state support legalizing recreational marijuana.