Capitol Watch: Pot opponents prep for legalization push

Lisa Misner —  May 13, 2019

Illinois lawmakers returned from their spring break poised to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana use for adults. The legalization effort is supported by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who advocated it throughout his campaign and in his inaugural address.

Pritzker and other legalization supporters say marijuana would bring beneficial revenue to the state, including up to $170 million in fiscal year 2020. But others say the costs—financial and otherwise—would be much greater.

“Too many people are shrugging and saying, Will it really do any harm? Yes. Absolutely, it will,” wrote two Illinois law enforcement associations in a joint statement last year. The Illinois Chiefs of Police and Illinois Sheriffs’ Associations pointed to increased marijuana-related traffic deaths and more teens being treated for marijuana use in Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2013.

Other opponents, including Illinois’ six Roman Catholic bishops, cite moral grounds for their disagreement. “As lawmakers consider this issue it is important to remember they are not only debating legalization of marijuana, but also commercialization of a drug into an industry the state will profit from,” the bishops said in February.

“In seeking the common good, the state should protect its citizens.”

Flag of Illinois State, on cannabis background

Currently, recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states, and 22 others, including Illinois, have legalized medical use of the drug. The legislators writing the Illinois law—Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago)—hoped to unveil it during the General Assembly’s first week back. A shell of the bill, SB 7, was filed in January, but details weren’t made available prior to legislators’ spring break.

The legislation would reportedly remove previous misdemeanor marijuana convictions, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, and would provide support for minority-owned businesses within the state’s future marijuana industry. The General Assembly’s Black Caucus is a key component of the legalization push, Politico reported, but in March, the Illinois president of the NAACP spoke against the measure.

“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean it’s healthy for our communities,” said Teresa Haley. “It hurts our community.”

Supporters of legalization also face opposition from some fellow lawmakers. Prior to the General Assembly’s spring break, 60 members of the Illinois House—a majority—signed on to a resolution to slow down the legalization process. The resolution’s sponsor is Rep. Martin Moylan (D-Des Plaines).

“I believe more research needs to be done on the topic of legalization including hearing from experts, such as physicians,” Moylan told the Sun-Times last year, prior to his election. “I am worried about underage use as we’ve seen with alcohol. I do not want ‘normalization.’”

Other bills to watch
Mandated reporters
SB 1778, sponsored by Sen. Julie A. Morrison (D-Deerfield), amends the Abuse and Neglected Child Reporting Act to add clergy to the list of mandated reporters of abuse and neglect.

Status: The bill passed in the Senate April 10, and was assigned to the House Adoption & Child Welfare Committee April 30. Its chief sponsor in the House is Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Deerfied).

LGBT-inclusive curriculum
In March, the Illinois House passed HB 0246, which requires public schools to include in their curriculum the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The bill’s chief sponsor in the House was Rep. Anna Moeller (D-
Elgin).

Status: The bill, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), was assigned to the Education Committee April 24.

Sports gambling legalization
The House Revenue and Finance Committee held a second hearing April 25 on legalizing sports gambling in Illinois. Rep. Michael J. Zalewski (D-Riverside) filed a shell bill in February, but lawmakers haven’t yet introduced details of the legislation. Gov. Pritzker proposed a budget in February that includes revenue from sports betting, which is currently legal in seven states.

– State Journal-Register, Chicago Sun-Times, Politico

Lisa Misner

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Lisa is IBSA Director of Communications. A Missouri native, she earned a Master of Arts in Communications from the University of Illinois. Her writing has received awards from the Baptist Communicators Association and the Evangelical Press Association.