Tom Kacich | Politicians not shying from pot-legalization issue

When the Gallup Poll first asked about legalizing marijuana in 1969, 84 percent of those asked were opposed. Now opposition is at 37 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

Illinois politicians of both parties have taken notice.

There was an interesting Illinois Senate roll call last week on a bill that calls for a statewide advisory vote on the question, “Do you support the legalization of possession and use of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years of age, subject to regulation and taxation that is similar to the regulation and taxation of tobacco and alcohol?”

It’s a nonbinding vote that sponsor Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, said is designed to “find out what voters think” about the issue before lawmakers act. It might also be effective in boosting the vote among young people and, therefore, Democrats.

But among the 37 senators who voted to put the issue on the ballot were a surprising number of Republicans (six of 22), including area Sens. Chapin Rose of Mahomet and Jason Barickman of Bloomington. Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, also voted to put the question on the Nov. 6 ballot, along with every other Democrat voting.

“Let the voters have their say,” said Rose, “and we’ll see what they decide.”

He said he’s not as far along as Barickman, who is already on record in support of legalized recreational marijuana.

Meanwhile, marijuana has turned into one of the defining issues in the Republican race for attorney general of Illinois that features Urbana attorney Erika Harold and DuPage County Board member Gary Grasso.

The latter is running radio commercials that say Harold “has not even tried a single case” since her 2007 graduation from Harvard Law School, and that call her “unproven, untested, liberal Miss Erika Harold.”

Harold campaign manager Jason Heffley said that “Erika has tried a case (in Champaign County) and Gary knows it.”

As for the rest, Heffley said, “Unfortunately, Gary makes up lots of stuff that is untrue. It is just the sign of a flailing campaign that has garnered no support.”

The Grasso campaign insists he is a “principled conservative” while Harold “has not taken a very strong stance” on issues such HB 40 (which allows for public funding of abortions) and expanded marijuana use, said spokesman Travis Akin.

Harold, however, has said she disagreed with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s decision to sign HB 40, but didn’t criticize him. And she told the Chicago Sun-Times she thinks Illinois should be open to “exploring” legalizing marijuana.

“I want Illinois to be prepared for that because I think that’s ultimately where we’re going to be,” Harold told the Sun-Times. “And I think we want to be prepared to deal with it in a way that makes sense and that protects people as much as possible.”

Grasso’s position isn’t that much different — “Right now my answer is no. I think we have to study the situation to see what the impacts are,” he told the newspaper — but his campaign and others suggest that’s a significant contrast.

“There’s no good outcome in making recreational drugs readily available,” Akin said. “What we need to do as a society is stop our dependence on recreational drugs and so he’s going to be an advocate against legalization of marijuana in Illinois.”

The conservative group Illinois Family Action said it backs Grasso for attorney general because Harold is a “squishy establishment type,” in part because of her position on marijuana.

“Moreover, it is troubling to read or hear her interviews in the media (WBEZ for example) and listen to her give politically correct or even liberal responses to questions,” said Illinois Family Action. “The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that Harold ‘believes Illinois should start exploring (marijuana) legalization.’ In the WBEZ interview, Harold waves the white flag of surrender, saying that she believes that recreational marijuana is ‘inevitable.’

“Finally, the fact that Harold has aligned herself with Bruce Rauner and his campaign apparatus is indicative of the establishment politics we’ve come to loathe in Illinois. We simply do not need another squishy establishment type in the Illinois GOP.”

Akin said that Harold’s campaign is trying to avoid taking strong conservative positions “because it would damage her in the general election.”

“Gary understands the political realities of Illinois and that going on record that way isn’t going to win a lot of votes in certain precincts in Illinois,” Akin said. “But principle matters and that’s why he did it and that’s why we’re making our case that he is the conservative candidate in this race.”

Money, money

— Randy Keith, one of three candidates for the Republican nomination in the 101st Illinois House District, scored some significant financial support last week: an in-kind contribution of $12,345 from the Illinois Farm Bureau political action committee for mail pieces, an in-kind contribution of $7,227 from the Illinois Education Association political action committee for TV spots and $2,500 from Randy Shumard of Bement who, like Keith, serves on the Piatt County Board.

— Harold got in-kind campaign support, worth about $7,200, from the Illinois Republican Party for her campaign for attorney general. So far the state party has given Harold more than $81,000 in her race against Grasso.

13th District forum

Four of the five Democratic candidates for Congress in the 13th District will attend a forum from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. today at the Champaign Public Library, according to organizers with Bend the Arc: CU, a Jewish social justice group.

The four scheduled to be there are Jon Ebel, David Gill, Erik Jones and Betsy Londrigan.

The 13th District now is represented by Congressman Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporters and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at

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