Illinois Governor Candidates Split On Marijuana Legalization

By Kelly Burch 03/14/18

The Republican and Democratic candidates are at odds about whether the financially unstable state should move forward with legalization. 

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner
Current Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner Photo via YouTube

Chicago is the third-largest American city, with residents there consuming 24.54 metric tons of weed each year—putting The Windy City at No. 8 globally for consumption. Because of that, a lot of attention is being given to whether gubernatorial candidates in Illinois support or oppose the legalization of marijuana for adult use, which some say could bring much-needed tax revenue into the financially struggling state. 

“Illinois has no other option but to legalize and tax pot to bring in more money,” Charles Selle wrote in an op-ed for The Chicago Tribune

U.S. News & World Report recently named Illinois the most financially unstable state, and Democratic lawmakers, including those running for governor, hope that legalizing pot will provide revenue to alleviate the state’s $1.5 billion debt. 

Current Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, is facing primary challenger Jeanne Ives in the March 20 primary. Rauner helped launch Illinois’ medical marijuana program in 2015—which is set to expire in 2020—but has fought to keep the list of qualifying conditions limited, according to NBC 5 Chicago

"I do not support legalizing marijuana. I think that's a mistake," the governor said. "You know there's a massive human experiment going on in Colorado and California and other places. We should see how that's impacting lives and addiction and hurting young people before we make any decision about it here."

Ives is against legalization of any form of marijuana. She was not in favor of a medical cannabis program and has voted against reducing criminal offenses for possession of marijuana in the past. She has said that legalizing marijuana "is the wrong way to solve our budget problems."

On the Democratic side, there is more nuance to the marijuana debate. Frontrunners J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy, and Daniel Biss are all in favor of legalization, but have different visions for how that should unfold. 

Kennedy has suggested that the University of Illinois oversee the legalization process in order to keep lobbyists from having too much say in the matter. He said the university could act as a third party with no incentive to "profit off of a public health decision.” It’s not clear whether the university would be comfortable or willing to take on that role. 

All of the Democratic candidates agree that the state needs to evaluate its criminal justice system alongside marijuana policy. Although Black Americans make up 15% of the state’s population, they account for 58% of marijuana arrests. 

"We must review and commute the sentences of people incarcerated for marijuana offenses in Illinois," said Pritzker. "It's time to bring the era of mass incarcerations for minor drug offenses to an end.”

Biss said that he would throw out certain marijuana convictions, in much the same way San Francisco did

"I'm committed to a criminal justice agenda that focuses on rehabilitation and community investment rather than mass incarceration—and we must make sure that no one gets left behind,” he said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.