Most Democratic gubernatorial candidates favor the legalization of marijuana, but Republican candidates vying for the seat have a different view on the matter.
Gov. Bruce Rauner is running for re-election, and he will face state Rep. Jeanne Ives in the Republican primary Tuesday. Three Democratic candidates – J.B. Pritzker, state Sen. Daniel Biss and Chris Kennedy – all are contenders to face one of the Republicans in the November election.
During Rauner’s tenure, he has taken action on several bills regarding marijuana. He signed Senate Bill 228 in 2016, which decriminalized the possession of small amounts of weed. The same year, he also approved an extension of the state’s medical marijuana pilot program through 2020.
Rauner has said in the past, however, that he doesn’t favor the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. His primary opponent, Ives, also opposes its legalization, and she consistently has voted against bills that deal with decriminalization of marijuana and medical marijuana use, voting records show.
Neither candidate could be reached for comment Friday.
Democratic candidates who met with the Northwest Herald’s Editorial Board in the past few months, however, said that legalization of marijuana could create an economic boom for Illinois through taxes and job creation.
Some also said legalization would reform a piece of the criminal justice system because minorities are disproportionately policed and prosecuted for things such as pot possession.
“I think the most important issue is racial justice,” Biss said. “The application of cannabis law is so different in majority white communities compared to black and brown communities. It’s time to do the right thing and legalize it.”
The economics of legalization also make sense, Pritzker said.
“We could bring in $350 million to $700 million in tax revenues,” he said. “In addition, we can create jobs.”
Job growth would not be limited to those created for production and at dispensaries. Allowing the production of hemp would create even more jobs in the agriculture industry and be of particular benefit to Illinois, Pritzker said.
“That is a crop we could easily grow,” he said. “And it is a product we could send worldwide.”
The use of marijuana for medical conditions should be between a patient and their doctor, but legalization for recreational use would have to be implemented carefully, if done, Kennedy said.
Safety and regulations are his main concern, he said, and he pointed to cases in other states where children have gotten ahold of enticing looking edibles that weren’t securely packaged.
Unregulated doses of THC – the active component of marijuana that creates a user’s high – also is a concern, Kennedy said.
“I think the way we go about it really, really matters,” Kennedy said. “I think we should have an honest broker involved that deals with these issues and assembles the best thinking [people] from across the county, including the medical community, the recovery community and the scientific community. … But turning this over to a bunch of lobbyists? … I don’t think we will get the best results.”