Public town hall events are currently being held throughout Illinois with one purpose: to advance legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults.
The Highland Park Library, hosted by the City of Highland Park, sponsored a town hall discussion Saturday, April 13, from 10-11:30 a.m. In the announcement blurb, individuals of all viewpoints were encouraged to attend to ask questions and learn all about the proposed cannabis legislation. About 100 attended.
The panel included Representative Bob Morgan (D – 58th District); Senator Julie Morrison (D – 29th District); and State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago), sponsor of Senate Bill 7. It has been two years since the Steans/Cassidy bill legalizing recreational pot was first introduced in Illinois.
Following brief introductions by Representative Bob Morgan and Senator Julie Morrison, Senator Heather Steans gave a Power Point presentation on Cannabis Legalization, designed to convince those in attendance that Illinois knows what it is doing, and that its recreational marijuana program will be well designed for positive results. As Steans suggested, in some states legalization of recreational marijuana was achieved by referendum. Doing it legislatively in Illinois is the better way, she said, as it will reflect the feedback received over the past twenty-four months.
Steans’ Legalized Pot slides
Seventeen slides were included in Rep. Steans’ presentation, which began with a map showing where current U.S. cannabis laws have been passed: 33 states allow medical use of marijuana; 10 states and Washington, D.C. allow adult use. (Michigan is the most recent state to approve recreational marijuana, but Steans failed to mention that recently New Jersey voted down recreational marijuana.)
Cited was the following: “During the past month 80,000 Illinoisans reported using marijuana, with data from other states showing usage rates do not go up following legislation. Study after study also confirms that legalization is not tied to increased rates of teen use. Most legalization states even report a decrease in teen use.”
As to Illinois’ current cannabis Law, its 2015 medical cannabis pilot program, ending in 2020, issued more than 52,000 patient cards for 41 approved conditions, there are 21 Indoor Cultivation Facilities (one per Illinois State Police district), and 60 Medical Cannabis Dispensaries distributed throughout the state roughly by population.
And what about the revenue projection for IL from marijuana legalization? Concern was expressed about not overtaxing. According to Steans, tax revenue is not the reason for the push to legalize recreational marijuana. A 2018 IL Economic Policy report indicates — when the grow centers and dispensaries are fully up and operating — cannabis will create nearly 24,000 new jobs in 2600 businesses and bring in tax revenue of $525 to $550 billion. Both a state excise and a state sales tax will be levied, and local jurisdictions, at their own discretion, could impose a 2 or 3% sales tax.
As to the use of the revenue, it will go to support public education campaigns, mental health/substance abuse treatment, and programs to repair harm to communities adversely affected by the War on Drugs.
Six power point slides were devoted to Avenue for Restorative Justice. Steans was not at first convinced whether to support recreational marijuana. What brought her around was the detrimental effect she observed from the War on Drugs. “Justice is not handed out in an equitable fashion.”
Below are some of the avenues provided by the bill for Restorative Justice:
- The law will mandate expungement of prior convictions for individuals (blacks and browns) who have been convicted of a class 4 felony or any misdemeanor violation of the Cannabis Control Act.
- Prior expungeable convictions for possession will not prohibit ownership of or employment in the cannabis industry. Victims of the War on Drugs will be given the opportunity to access and participate in a nascent cannabis industry.
- Modifies current licensing structure by expanding Illinois’ medical cannabis industry by adding more categories of licensing, such as giving victims of the war on drugs the opportunity to access and participate in the cannabis industry.
- Equality and inclusion must be demonstrated in the development of minority owned enterprises, as in committing contractors to foster local ownership with a commitment to diverse hiring practices — employing ex-offenders and operating in disadvantaged communities.
As to the timeline for the implementation of the recreational marijuana bill to ensure a smooth rollout and thoughtful expansion of production and distribution, determine optimal tax strategy to eliminate illicit market and minimize effects of price compression and market fluctuation, and to decide final allocation and distribution of revenue, Senator Steans set forth the following: With input now taking place, the final draft of the bill is expected by the end of April or beginning of May. When passed it will take time to put all in place, bringing January 1st of 2020 as the earliest date recreational marijuana will be available in Illinois. Illinois’ spring legislative session concludes at the end of May.
Questioned were entertained, but they had to be submitted on post cards and vetted by Senator Julie Morrison before responded to by Senator Steans.
Governor J.B. Pritzker, from opponent to proponent
There is much to be concerned about in the legalization of recreational marijuana here in Illinois. These concerns will be addressed more fully in a subsequent article.
Regarding Governor J.B. Pritzker, who has championed the push to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults in Illinois, in a Chicago News-Sun article dated Friday, April 12, 2019, reporter Tina Sfondeles documented that Pritzker has gone from an opponent to a proponent of legal pot, admitting that he tried marijuana himself, “a long time ago.” Some of Pritzker’s earliest concerns about legalization stemmed from worries about teen use of cannabis. “I have teenagers, and I was very concerned, just not knowing,” Gov. Pritzker said. “And in Washington state…they did a very good job of showing there was no increase in teen use.”
A fact sheet handed out to townhall participants reinforced Pritzker’s belief that an increase in teen use didn’t follow marijuana legalization for adults, which undoubtedly was intended to quell the concerns of those present that the teen problem was non-existent. Statistics were listed for marijuana use for teens before and after adult-use legalization laws passed in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada.
No increased use in teens discredited
The handout teen information, however, was at odds with what has been an alarming rise in teenage marijuana use across the U.S., now at its highest level in 30 years, as reported by the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, No. 106; updated May, 2018. When reported that teen use is down in Colorado, the data comes from the schools and school participation is voluntary. The largest school districts in the urban areas of Colorado do not participate. Those school districts have high absentee rates so the kids aren’t even in school to take the survey. For example, School District 60 in Pueblo absentee rate is 38%. So teen use appears to be low, when the true story is being hidden.
In Oregon, the effects of recreational marijuana legalization depends on whether the teens were already using marijuana when legal sales began. For teenagers who had tried marijuana by 8th grade, the frequency of use during the following year increased 26% more for those who were in 9th grade after marijuana was legalized compared to those who were in 9th grade prior to legalization.
Pot then and now and mental illness
As to Gov. Pritzker smoking pot “a long time ago,” a recently published book by Alex Berenson, Tell Your Children (The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence), notes the following about the marijuana of “then” and the marijuana of “now” on pp. 40 and 41 of his book:
A 1972 federal study reported that “most marihuana available in this country comes from Mexico and has a THC content of less than 1%. . . “Today, marijuana is far stronger, regularly 20 percent to 25 percent THC (the main psychoactive, or mood altering, ingredient in marijuana). At that potency, a single joint can contain more than 100 milligrams of the drug. Regular smokers sometimes coat their joints with near-pure THC oil extracts, further increasing the amount of THC.
As to the claim in mental illness in Berenson’s book, according to the biggest-ever study to examine the impact of pot on psychotic disorder rate, smoking high-potency marijuana every day could increase the chances of developing psychosis by nearly five times. The new findings have implications for jurisdictions legalizing marijuana, warning they should consider the potential impact on their mental health services.
Listen here to Berenson’s compelling interview of March 2, 2018 on Fox and Friends, one of many such venues where he cites scientific studies showing how dangerous cannabis is.
At the same site is an opinion piece by Nicolis Saphier, M.D., a mother, a practicing physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, active in health care legislation, and a medical contributor and frequent guest anchor for Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, in which Dr. Saphier notes that as research and discussions continue, it is becoming clear that both short-term and long-term marijuana use can cause serious problems with physical and mental health. As to the adolescent brain, it is still under development. Psychotropic drug use during this time may consequently alter brain development – leading to poor academic performance, earlier onset of psychosis and permanently lowering the IQ of young people. The long-term consequences of this may change the course of the lives of young marijuana users.
Black Market for Drugs
Will the legalization of recreational marijuana cut down on the lucrative black market for drugs here in Chicago and Illinois where “the Chicago way” is linked to corruption at every level of government? It is a given that even when marijuana is legalized for adults in Illinois, marijuana will remain available on the street for young people and others to easily obtain.
A quick search provides many articles that document the illegal drug trade that is rampant in Chicago, when as during a traffic stop a dog on the narcotics unit sniffed out what turned out to be more than 1,500 pounds of marijuana inside a vehicle.