Could the Land of Lincoln be the next state to implement legal recreational marijuana?
A political strategy firm is working to get a non-binding initiative on the Illinois ballot in 2018 that would give voters the opportunity to say yea or nay to legal rec MJ.
In its first step Joliet, Ill.-based Creative Consulting Solutions launched Growth for Illinois and a GoFundMe effort seeking $1,500 to fund a poll of Illinois voters to determine support for a non-binding initiative on legalizing recreational marijuana in the state.
If the poll finds strong support, the next stage would be putting the initiative on the 2018 general election ballot.
“Our approach is to conduct a poll to gauge public support and use that data to persuade politicians to support a referendum,” says Drew Duzinskas, a staffer with Creative Consulting. “Then we conduct a ballot referendum and pass that.”
Signs for approval are good. A March poll found that 66 percent of Illinois voters support legal recreational marijuana for adults if it is taxed and regulated like alcohol.
When contrasting political affiliation, 76 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents, and 52 percent of Republicans in Illinois supported the concept, according to the poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.
But passing a non-binding resolution doesn’t make it law. The legal rec MJ concept would still need to be introduced as a bill in the General Assembly. If it gets approved there it must be signed into law by the governor.
PAYING THE BILLS
There’s no guarantee of any of those events occurring, especially in a state facing bankruptcy and a bitterly divided statehouse. The state owes somewhere between $83 billion and $200 billion in pension and health insurance benefits to retired government workers, according to Illinois Policy.
Proponents of legal rec MJ argue that taxing the drug can bring in some much needed dollars.
Last year Colorado’s marijuana industry, both medical and recreational, brought in $1.3 billion in revenues, and paid about $200 million in taxes to the state.
In addition, the Colorado MJ industry generated 18,000 full-time jobs in 2015, according to Denver-based research house Marijuana Policy Group.
Illinois presumably would easily top those numbers with its population of nearly 13 million compared with Colorado’s 5.5 million residents.
Illinois has already changed some of its marijuana laws. It does have medical though Duzinskas notes it is only a pilot program. And the first offense for possessing and selling small amounts of marijuana is treated as a misdemeanor, as is cultivating five plants or less.
Duzinskas declines to disclose which elected officials and policy activists are supporting Creative Consulting’s initiative.
In April state Sen. Heather Steans and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, both Chicago Democrats, began a series of hearings on legalizing rec MJ. The two officials also introduced corresponding legal rec bills in the statehouse.
The two received support from the Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Coalition for a Safer Illinois, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project, and others.
“A lot of leaders and activists support legal rec MJ (and we are) getting support from the residents of Illinois,” says Duzinskas. “We want to amplify that to elected officials. The people want this. That motivates us.”
Graphic of Creative Lights by Alejandro Forero Cuervo, 2007.
Graphic of leaf by Jurassic Blueberries, 2017.