Rep. Casten calls for federal decriminalization of possessing small amounts of cannabis

  • Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove, left, and Republican Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau are candidates for the 6th Congressional District seat.

    Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove, left, and Republican Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau are candidates for the 6th Congressional District seat.

Posted10/20/2022 5:30 AM

Following the lead of Illinois and other states, Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove supports federally decriminalizing small amounts of cannabis.

"We should not be putting people in jail for low-level drug offenses," Casten told the Daily Herald in a recent online interview.


Casten's Republican challenger in the mostly suburban 6th Congressional District, Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau, refused to participate in the interview or answer questions about the nation's drug laws and other subjects.

Casten, who is seeking a third term in the U.S. House, said America has lost the war on drugs that began under President Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

A key difference between the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s and the opioid crisis happening now is the current problem especially has hit rural, white communities instead of urban, Black communities, Casten said. That's led to different reactions to the two problems, he said -- mass incarceration then, and a growing focus on treatment now.

Casten called the shift "a strange thing to celebrate."

"As a society, I hate to say this, but we take much more humane approaches to things that affect white people," he said. "We've seen (a) more holistic, more appropriate response."

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

Casten noted that decriminalization -- eliminating jail time or other criminal penalties -- is different from legalization. He praised Switzerland and Portugal for decriminalizing opioids and treating addiction as a public health issue. He also credited Rhode Island officials for expanding access to medical-assisted drug treatment to opioid users who need it.

"We've started on the decriminalization path, certainly with marijuana, which is a step forward," Casten said. "Let's admit that we need to use some new tactics and acknowledge that there are other jurisdictions that have proven tactics that work."

Casten said states are ahead of the federal government when it comes to decriminalization and legalization. But he also urged caution, saying studies haven't been done that gauge the impact of narcotics on developing brains, pregnancies or even other medications.

"I think we've seen a huge surge in availability that's largely ahead of whether the science says we're making it available to the right people," Casten said.

Redrawn ahead of this election, the 6th District includes parts of Cook and DuPage counties.

Election Day is Nov. 8. Early voting has begun.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.