Cook County Votes Yes to Marijuana Referendum

Cartoon by Nicole F. Anderson

Cook County voters were recently asked their thoughts on legalizing recreational marijuana on a non-binding referendum on their ballots.

The referendum on the ballots said, “Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?”

62.71% of Cook County voters checked yes.

A non-binding referendum on a ballot isn’t a bill, nor will the referendum turn into a bill or go into effect right away. A referendum is a vote on a specific topic by registered voters from state legislators. The referendum being non-binding means it’s indicative to what the majority of registered voters’ opinions and wants are.

Chicagoan Adrienne Kane is against legalizing marijuana and said, “My real concern with making marijuana legal is how children will be affected - either directly or genetically. Like kids affected by alcoholic parents.”

In December 2017, the county commissioners voted without opposition to put the marijuana question on the primary election ballots. According to the Chicago Tribune, earlier this month, the state Senate “passed a measure” to put the marijuana referendum on the ballot for the general election in November.

In his victory speech, Democratic gubernatorial nominee J.B. Pritzker said, “We can begin by immediately removing one area of racial injustice in our criminal justice system. Let’s legalize, tax and regulate marijuana.”

Republican gubernatorial nominee, Bruce Rauner said in a February interview with Paxton Record that as of right now, he would definitely veto a bill on legalizing recreational usage of marijuana.

In a phone interview, Chicago’s 45th Ward Alderman John Area said, “I’ve been watching other states and the revenue generation opportunities have been positive… Most reports seem to be realistic in addressing the black market and legal issues… The tax revenue is attractive… We’re not Colorado, but we’re the city of Chicago.”

In 2013, Illinois legislators legalized medical marijuana but placed tight guidelines on it. In order to apply for a medical marijuana card, the person must be 18 years of age, diagnosed with at least one of the 45 approved illnesses or disorders, receive a physician’s consent and prove Illinois residency.

In 2016 small amounts of marijuana in a person’s possession was decriminalized. 10 grams or less is considered a civil violation with a potential $200 fine. A first offense of 10 – 30 grams in a person’s possession is a misdemeanor with the potential of spending one year incarcerated and/or a $2,500 fine. A second offense with 10 – 30 grams or being caught with more than 30 grams in their possession is considered a felony with incarceration of one to 30 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.

While other states have legalized marijuana, it is still a Schedule 1 substance according to the federal government’s National Controlled Substances Act. Meaning it is still as illegal as heroin and cocaine.

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