Opposition to Marijuana Legalization in Illinois
Governor J.B. Pritzker and other lawmakers are proposing a bill that would make recreational cannabis legal in the form of the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act. 30 grams of possession would be legal for Illinoisans who are 21 and over. If this bill passes, Illinois would join its neighbor Michigan along with ten other states in legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. Actual licensing for growers would not take effect until January 1st 2020. Dispensaries and processors would not be able to get their hands on a license until May and July 2020 according to the governor’s office.
Class 4 felony marijuana convictions and misdemeanors would also be expunged, it’s estimated that the number could be as high as 800,000 convictions. These measures are included to try to help communities who have been ravaged by the enforcement of low-level drug crimes at a disproportionate rate. Prtizker told the Black United Fund of Illinois on Chicago’s South Side that; “Illinois is going to have the most equity-centric law in the nation.”
Included in the proposed law would be a low interest loan program of $20 million. The purpose of the program would be to provide social equity in business ownership. The cost of starting a cannabis business that is licensed can be very costly and this low interest loan could help offset some of these costs. Approval of this loan would be based on where the applicant has lived. The bill describes it as a (disproportionally impacted area.) To qualify, the neighborhood would have to have high rates of incarceration and arrest for marijuana related crimes. The goal is to invest some of the revenue from legalized marijuana in communities that have been torn apart by the war on drugs.
The Governor is receiving push back from the police since his announcement to legalize the sale of marijuana by licensed businesses and personal possession up to one ounce of cannabis flower. Chief Steven Shelter is the president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and he has made it no secret of his opposition. He stated that fighting the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes was his top priority. He cited numerous reasons for his opposition which includes the following:
- Increased violent crime in states where recreational marijuana is legal.
- Increased number of fatal motor vehicle accidents.
- Legalization does not reduce the black market.
- Foreign cartels are purchasing foreclosed properties in order to set up grow operations.
- In States where it’s legalized, emergency services have received increased calls to poison control centers regarding children who’ve ingested edibles laced with cannabis
- The proposed law fails to provide ways to prevent users from growing more than five plants
- The bill has no way to prevent users from purchasing large amounts if they decide to visit multiple dispensaries
One of the main concerns that has been brought up is the issue of the potential increase of drivers on the road while under the influence of cannabis. They referred to studies that shows a growing number of accidents in states that have legalized marijuana where the drivers tested positive for marijuana. What makes this heightened concern, is that the new bill does not contain enough protections to discourage impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel.
The police are not the only ones opposed to legalization. The Healthy and Productive Illinois also oppose legalization and they have the support of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national anti-cannabis organization. Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston of New Hope Baptist is a prominent figure when it comes to social justice in Chicago, he argues that the only motive behind this bill is profit. He believes the social equity measure is just lip service and not valid since Illinois has already decriminalized possession of marijuana in small amounts in 2012 in Chicago. In 2016 decriminalization went into effect for the whole state of Illinois. Even after these changes, arrests fell significantly but African Americans were still arrested at disproportionately higher rates.
Livingston compared the move of legalizing marijuana as “a gangsta move worthy of Al Capone” and he also stated that legalizing cannabis will lead to marijuana companies “pimping Latinos and African Americans”. Opponents firmly believe that legalizing marijuana recreationally will exploit minorities and line the pockets of white corporate America, the way tobacco and alcohol has done. Livingston stated that marijuana grown and sold for recreational purposes often has a higher content of THC, which is the key ingredient that gets users high. He states that this will attract a larger number of minority users while white entrepreneurs will be the only ones receiving economic benefit.
Gov. Pritzker seems confident that his state will be next in legalizing recreational cannabis. He even made an announcement that key legislators in his state are in agreement and that they are on board to legalize it by January 1, 2020.
Whether the people hurt by the war on drugs will benefit, is yet to be seen. Helping the poor is often an added measure that helps legalization of marijuana bills get passed; but once it’s legalized, the poor people’s side of the bargain is often neglected. A lot of politicians have promised similar social equity programs, but hefty government fees and expensive licensing requirements still make it almost impossible for low income entrepreneurs to get their foot in the cannabis door. It’s up to voters and the people of Illinois to make sure that when politicians make promises of social equity that they follow through and if they don’t, the consequences should be dealt out at the voting booth.