Pubdate: Thu, 22 Feb 2018
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2018 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Bill Lukitsch


Illinois voters could get a say whether the state should legalize
recreational marijuana if lawmakers decide to put the question on
November ballots.

A state Senate committee advanced the idea on Wednesday, but a ballot
question would be non-binding. That means it would work like a
statewide public opinion poll and wouldn't legalize marijuana even if
a majority of voters approve. Lawmakers who want to legalize the drug
could get a political boost, though, if voters favor it.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, said putting the matter to a
vote would "bring the public into the debate" and "give them an
opportunity to register their opinion" as lawmakers debate the idea in

If the proposed legislation passes the House and Senate, voters would
be asked if they support legalizing recreational use for those 21 and
older, under tax regulations similar to tobacco and alcohol.

In the Senate committee, Democrats supported the ballot question and
Republicans opposed it, with the exception of GOP state Sen. Jim
Oberweis of Sugar Grove.

Oberweis abstained from the vote and said he was "torn" on the issue.
He said he sees "definite merits" in hearing public opinion, but
questioned whether putting marijuana in the same context as tobacco
and alcohol would be fair.

In voting against the ballot question, state Sen. Chris Nybo,
R-Elmhurst, named property tax reductions, redistricting reform and
term limits for party leaders as questions he'd rather see on the ballot.

"Of all of the issues that we as a state are facing and that we have
the opportunity to present to our citizens in terms of an advisory
referendum, I would frankly put this one very low down the list," Nybo

The vote on Wednesday comes as two legalization bills remain in limbo
in the House and Senate. Supporters say legal marijuana could bring
millions in tax revenue, reduce prison populations, and allow law
enforcement agencies to focus on other crimes, but it's unclear
they'll push forward this year.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has said legalizing it would be a mistake, and
police officials have pushed back, too.

Ed Wojcicki, executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs
of Police, said his organization fears recreational legalization could
lead to increased accidents and teenage use, adding "we wonder how
that is possibly good for Illinois."

Cook County voters already will get to weigh in on marijuana.
Commissioners last year voted to put that question on the March
primary ballot.
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MAP posted-by: Matt