Activists on both sides are pushing hard as marijuana legalization bill looms in Illinois

When a new study reported that legal marijuana could have dire circumstances for the Midwest, it marked the latest in an onslaught of public relations attempts to affect the outcome of the legalization debate in Illinois.

On one side, the cannabis industry, investors, social justice advocates, and mostly Democratic lawmakers are calling for an end what they consider a destructive war against a relatively harmless and sometimes beneficial drug.

On the other side, law enforcement, addiction counselors, preachers, and most Republican lawmakers warn about the dangers of legalizing another mind-altering addictive substance.

While each side has passionate true believers, their efforts are also driven in part by national non-profit groups funded by often-undisclosed donors. Their target audience is both the general public, two-thirds of whom in Illinois support legalization, polls show, and undecided state lawmakers, who plan to consider legalizing weed for recreational use this spring.

“People do not want pot shops in their community, and do not want more stoned drivers on the roadways,” he said. “There’s a human side to this that has real consequences.”

A “shell” state bill that would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, but has no details on paper yet, passed out of a committee to the full Senate last week. State Sen. Heather Steans, sponsoring the bill with Rep. Kelly Cassidy, said negotiations over the details of the bill, including creating new licenses for craft marijuana growers, processors and transporters, are continuing with the governor’s office and other stakeholders. She hopes to introduce the bill by the end of April, and pass it by the end of May, with sales beginning early next year.

As for the players coming on each side of the issue, she said, “It’s just as all advocates do. It’s no different than any big substantive bill in terms of people making their case.”

On Thursday, pro-legalization groups made their case at the Thompson Center in Chicago. Partners in the push include ACLU Illinois, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, and union officials, including Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union State Council.

He spoke of the estimated $350 million to $700 million a year the measure could raise in tax revenue, and provisions to clear the criminal records of thousands of workers with minor marijuana convictions.

“We need this legislation to help our most vulnerable communities and to create opportunities for both working families and entrepreneurs,” he said.

Tribune reporter Ally Marotti contributed to this report.

Twitter @RobertMcCoppin

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via News – Chicago Tribune

April 5, 2019 at 06:24PM

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