50 States

50 States: Illinois

By David Jenison

50 States: Illinois

Medical: Yes
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: No

This month, two big cannabis stories dominated the headlines in the Prairie State. One is rather comical, while the other is exciting.

First, news outlets issued warnings all week that the deadly “tequila of marijuana” has reached President Obama’s old stomping grounds. Before anyone gets excited, no, Jalisco state did not swap blue agave for green bud. The media-coined “tequila of marijuana” is shatter, a concentrated form of cannabis that looks like a hard sugar candy, and we’re guessing the media thought “deadly peanut brittle of marijuana” didn’t have the same ring to it. Unless there is a worm at the bottom of the dab, the analogy is strange to say the least. Still, considering the shatter warning originated with law enforcement, it is possible that the timing was meant to cast a negative hue on the second big headline of the month.

On November 9, Illinois’ first legal medical marijuana (MMJ) sales took place via its new Medical Cannabis Pilot Program. (Just calling the plant cannabis instead of marijuana is a symbolically positive sign.) The law establishing the program passed in 2013, and despite a ridiculous number of hurdles and setbacks initiated by later-day Capones who prefer prohibition, several dispensaries were ready to serve on opening day. The long list of qualifying conditions includes Alzheimer's, cancer, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hepatitis C, fibromyalgia, dystonia, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and lupus, and several thousand patients have already registered. The limit is two and a half ounces per 14-day period, and a caregiver can pick up medicine for a patient too ill to travel. The pilot program does not allow for home cultivation. The Los Angeles Times reported that state dispensaries sold $210,000 worth of legal MMJ in the first week.

Despite the state’s progressive step forward, the American Civil Liberties Union (UCLA) notes that Illinois still has the fifth-highest arrest rate in the U.S. for cannabis possession. As per usual, law enforcement officials arrest African-Americans for possession at 7.6 times the rate of whites despite similar levels of cannabis consumption.

Several towns already decriminalized cannabis, but statewide legislation continues to flounder. Senator Michael Noland (D-Elgin) and Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) sponsored decriminalization bills (SB0753 and HB0218, respectively), but the senate bill is “not going anywhere” (per Noland), and the governor vetoed the house bill in September. Representative Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) recently filed a third bill, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (HB4276), that would legalize recreational cannabis.

Governor Bruce Rauner, former chair of a private equity firm, is a conservative that seems to espouse prohibition. This means supermajority votes are likely needed to overcome vetoes on decriminalization and recreational bills. The state is currently locked in a budgetary battle that adds additional hurdles to positive legislating. If the MMJ pilot program succeeds, the state will hopefully establish a larger permanent program. Likewise, positive outcomes from the MMJ program would arguably help the recreational and decriminalization causes as well.

Chicago Bulls player Joakim Noah is one person who implied he would welcome legalization. Asked in 2014 if he would consider doing cannabis advertising if it became legal in Illinois, the former Defensive Player of the Year smiled and said, “To quote Bob Marley, ‘Time will tell.’”


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