Pritzker pot plan gets pushback from some suburban lawmakers

  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks about a plan to legalize recreational marijuana and other issues in a meeting with the Daily Herald editorial board Monday.

      Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks about a plan to legalize recreational marijuana and other issues in a meeting with the Daily Herald editorial board Monday. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/6/2019 5:46 AM

A suburban lawmaker is receiving bipartisan support to put the brakes on fellow Democrats' and Gov. J.B. Pritzker's push to legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois.

"The people of Illinois are going to be safer when it's legalized," the new Democratic governor told the Daily Herald's editorial board Monday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Democrat Marty Moylan of Des Plaines disagrees, and so do 34 lawmakers in both parties co-sponsoring his House Resolution 157 to slow the process.

Moylan and legalization opponents including the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police will participate in a rally against the proposed law Wednesday at the Capitol in Springfield.

"The more information you have about this bill, the more people are against it," Moylan said, adding that he is worried about a spike in impaired driving.

Pritzker thinks legalizing marijuana will be an economic trigger and a catalyst for social justice across the state. Illinois will benefit from lessons learned by states like Colorado that pioneered decriminalizing pot, he said.

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"Eleven states have legalized adult-use cannabis. Hopefully, the second learns from the first, the third learns from the second and the first," Pritzker said.

Illinois has allowed medical marijuana since 2014, and in 2017 Chicago Democratic Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy introduced legislation to decriminalize recreational use.

"I am pushing very hard to make sure it happens during this session," Pritzker said, adding that he is coordinating with lawmakers.

"I'm very focused on making sure communities of color, which have been most burdened by the war on drugs, have the ability to get (dispensing) licenses and to go into this businesses," Pritzker said. "There are way too many people who have gone to prison or are currently sitting in prison for marijuana-related offenses."

Marijuana produced today is much more potent than the varieties smoked in the 1960s and 1970s, said Republican state Rep. Tom Morrison of Palatine, who supports Moylan's resolution.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I'm concerned about the exposure to children because it's not just about smoking marijuana," Morrison said. Marijuana "edibles are very prevalent -- gummy bears, cookies, lollipops -- children are attracted to these," he said, referencing shops in states where marijuana is legal.

Pritzker noted that "it's very important to focus on keeping adult-use cannabis out of the hands of teenagers. (But) it is readily available for people (now) whether they're adult or not, which is unfortunate in that it's not regulated, we don't know if it's safe, and people make unsafe decisions sometimes to acquire it. We can make it safe."

Asked about preventing "driving while stoned" crashes, Pritzker said those are "happening now. If nothing changes, it's still happening now." He noted that researchers are developing products similar to a Breathylzer that police can use to test for marijuana.

"I certainly want to make sure we do our best to make sure our highways are safe," Pritzker said.

The legislation is still being finalized. It's estimated legalization could generate $170 million in licensing and other fees in 2020. Pritzker thinks the revenues should go into the general fund, although some could be dedicated to related purposes.

Pritzker also said he wants to ensure "big cannabis" companies from outside Illinois aren't allowed to monopolize homegrown companies.

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