Suburban Democrats key to pot legalization passage but some are breaking ranks

Although legalizing marijuana is one of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's priorities, a significant percentage of northwest suburban Democrats are balking or wavering on the legislation in its current form, according to an informal poll.

Sponsors are revising the proposal that would allow people age 21 and up to buy pot, grow five plants at home and expunge criminal histories for minor violations of the Cannibis Control Act.

If 16 House Democrats or 11 Senate Democrats break ranks with Prizker and the party, it could doom the legislation assuming Republicans hold together and vote no.

And nothing's guaranteed in a freewheeling session where the rookie governor already faces a heavy lift to pass a controversial income tax restructure, a capital bill with tax increases and a gambling expansion.

Suburban Democrats in conservative districts face pushback at home from local law enforcement and pressure in Springfield to back one of Pritzker's campaign promises.

“Right now, they're struggling to get votes,” pot legalization opponent Rep. Marty Moylan said Thursday of his Democratic colleagues. “They're going to try and cut deals to get votes.”

The Daily Herald reached out to 24 suburban Democrats. Twelve responded, and of those, eight or 67% were uncommitted or disagreed with the current version of the legalization policy.

“I have concerns regarding the expungement language, and I don't support allowing homegrown plants,” said Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates. “Additionally, I'm also concerned about how difficult it would be for law enforcement to determine if someone is driving under the influence.”

Illinoisans cultivating their own weed also was a deal-breaker for Sen. Laura Murphy of Des Plaines.

“The bill in its current form is not ready,” Murphy said, adding she also worried about “the availability of roadside detection, and the current allocation of funding for local law enforcement.”

Meanwhile several local lawmakers, including co-sponsor Sen. Linda Holmes of Aurora, are leading the charge for legalization.

Deerfield Rep. Bob Morgan was coordinator for Illinois medical marijuana pilot program and is heavily involved in developing the recreational use legislation.

“This legislation will improve public health, and include the strongest social equity provisions in the history of cannabis regulation,” said Morgan, an attorney.

Arlington Heights Rep. Mark Walker is another yes. “It's a close call, but I think the benefits of government regulation and product safety outweigh the public risks. We should have learned that Prohibition causes more problems than it fixes, when we did it with alcohol,” Walker said.

State Rep. Dan Didech of Buffalo Grove wanted to see the bill's final version before deciding.

“My hope is that the final bill will contain strong local control provisions that will allow municipal governments to effectively license and regulate cannabis facilities,” he said. “It should also restrict the ability of cannabis companies to market to children, require labeling that accurately reflects the contents of the product, and limit home cultivation to medicinal patients.”

State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego said she couldn't support the legislation in its current form, while Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake, Rep. Deb Conroy of Elmhurst and Terra Costa Howard of Glen Ellyn still had questions.

Rep. Anna Moeller of Elgin said she supported the legalization.

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Fred Crespo
Stephanie Kifowit
Laura Murphy
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