Voters in Illinois Say Free the Weed

Marijuana Voting Check Mark
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CHICAGO — Voters in Illinois voted yes when asked if the state of Illinois should legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older, according to NBC News Chicago.  

The referendum was placed on primary ballots for the Illinois gubernatorial election that took place on Tuesday. More than 63 percent of people who voted in the primary election said that recreational marijuana should be legal, with 73 percent of Chicago voters in support of the referendum.  

The referendum does not mean that marijuana will be legalized, but referendums historically do turn into law. The winner of the gubernatorial Democratic primary, billionaire JB Pritzker, is a strong supporter of legalizing recreational marijuana.  

Pritzker believes that legal weed could provide Illinois more than enough tax revenue to pay the state's $9 billion debt. For example, Colorado implemented legal recreational marijuana in 2014 and has already generated almost $700 million in tax revenue.  

Pritzker also says that legalizing marijuana could help to decrease racial discrimination when it comes to the criminal justice system. According to the ACLU, Illinois has a high arrest rate for marijuana possession, and a 2010 analysis found that African-Americans make up at least 58 percent of marijuana arrests, despite only being 15 percent of the state's population. Pritzker said that he wants to commute sentences of anyone incarcerated for minor marijuana offenses and put an end to mass incarceration in the state.  

The current governor of Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner, who won the Republican gubernatorial primary and will face Pritzker in the November election, is an opponent of legalizing recreational marijuana. Gov. Rauner has said that he does not support recreational marijuana and that legalizing it would be a mistake.  

Medical marijuana is legal in Illinois for debilitating illnesses, and the governor has been supportive by adding terminal illnesses and PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions. However, he is also appealing a court order for the state to add intractable pain to the list. 

Recreational marijuana is legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Vermont is the only state so far that has legalized marijuana through the legislature. All other states that have legalized recreational marijuana have done so via referendums. 

Legislators in Illinois Support Legal Weed  

Dome of Illinois State Capitol
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The Illinois Senate voted March 1 to put another marijuana referendum on ballots this November statewide, according to the Associated Press. The Senate Executive Committee voted to add a referendum on the November ballot which asks voters if Illinois should legalize recreational marijuana and regulate it like the state regulates alcohol and tobacco. 

People who are in support of the legislation say that other states that have legalized and regulated the drug have seen a sharp increase in tax revenue. Supporters also believe that legalizing marijuana could help to combat opioid addiction in the state.  

Over 40 people die daily from prescription drugs in the state, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services. In fact, people are dying at such a rapid rate that physicians in Illinois have declared opioids a danger to the state.  

State Sen. Jason Barickman, (R-Bloomington) is in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana and believes legalization is an inevitability that Republicans need to acknowledge and involve themselves in.  

State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) is another legislator in favor of legalization, having introduced legislation that would allow patients to trade their prescription painkillers for medical marijuana. The bill, called The Alternatives to Opioids Act, was passed last month by the Senate Executive Committee and is currently being considered by the entire Senate.  

ABC News reported findings from a poll conducted by Southern Illinois University concluding that almost 75 percent of people in Illinois support legalizing recreational marijuana. If lawmakers in the state consider the will of the voters in Illinois, marijuana could be legal in the state soon.