On January 21 at his inauguration in Springfield, Gov. J.B. Pritzker repeated his campaign promise to work toward legalizing marijuana. He said: “In the interests of keeping the public safe from harm, expanding true justice in our criminal justice system, and advancing economic inclusion, I will work with the legislature to legalize, tax and regulate the sale of recreational cannabis in Illinois.”

Pritzker, who defeated incumbent Bruce Rauner, has supporters in the legislature. House Speaker Michael Madigan, for one, stated that he plans to work with Pritzker toward the goal of legalization. Signs of reform in Illinois do not end there, however. Kim Fox, the state attorney for Cook County, whose borders include Chicago, has also come out in favor of legal marijuana and has announced that her office will no longer pursue small possession cases.

Other politicians from the Chicago area also support legalization. In 2018, State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago), along with State Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) introduced a bill to allow adults to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis and allow dispensaries to sell cannabis products. The bill also included a number of tax, public safety, and health provisions. Then-Gov. Rauner opposed the measure, however, saying it would be a “mistake” to legalize, saying: “[T]here’s a massive, human experiment going on in Colorado, and California, other places. We should see how that’s impacted lives and addiction and hurt young people before we make any decision about it here. I do not support legalizing marijuana.” Steans has promised to reintroduce the bill this year.

One reason that Steans has cited for legalization is tax revenue. In a prepared statement, she said: “Right now, all the money being spent on marijuana is going into the pockets of criminals and cartels. In a regulated system, the money would go into the cash registers of licensed, taxpaying businesses. It would generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year in new revenue for our state. Prohibition is a financial hole in the ground, and we should stop throwing taxpayer dollars into it.”

For other legalization proponents, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, legalization is a means of allowing police to focus more on violent crime. For former prosecutor Lori Lightfoot, legalization also brings the promise of ending racial disparity in enforcement.


For opponents of legalization, racial disparity in economic opportunity is a complaint. One is Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston of New Hope Baptist Church, who has pointed out that with legalization, white-owned companies will be first in line to exploit poor people of color, just as liquor and tobacco companies have. In addition, he cites the connections of legalization proponents to corporations that stand to gain from it. Tim McAnarney, the spokesperson for the lobbying group Healthy and Productive Illinois, has spoken against legalization as well, saying “We don’t want to become California.” Another reason he has given to oppose legalization is that it would create problems for employers, as increased marijuana use among employees could create problems with productivity and judgment.

Despite this opposition, after Pritzker’s victory against Rauner and the support of the public, a legalization bill may pass in 2019. It has the support of Madigan in the House, and the voting record of Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) is also firmly in the legalization camp.

What do you think? Will a legalization bill become law in Illinois in 2019? Leave a comment below.

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