Legal Marijuana Question A Step Closer To Being On November Ballots In Illinois

Photo Credit: Antonio Perez

The state Senate on Thursday voted to ask on the November ballot whether recreational use of marijuana should be legalized and taxed in Illinois.

The ballot question would be only advisory, so even if voters approve, lawmakers still would have to act.

Sponsoring Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, said it is important to poll the public because some lawmakers are already working to legalize recreational marijuana use for people over 21. He noted that in most states that allow recreational use, it was done by voters expressing support in the ballot box.

“I think it well advised for us as members of the Illinois General Assembly, before we possibly take a vote on this issue, to find out what our voters think. As I said, it’s been done in virtually every other state that has considered this questions,” Cunningham said.

The measure cleared the Senate on a 37-13 vote, sending it to the House. State Sen. Heather Steans, who is sponsoring a bill to legalize recreational use, voted “present.”

“I didn’t want to do anything to make it seem like I am not negotiating in good faith on the bill I am trying to pass,” she said following the vote.

Republican Sen. Chris Nybo of Elmhurst opposed the measure, saying it was “not because of the merits” of the idea. “I just think that given what the state of Illinois is facing there are so many other important issues we should be putting before our citizens,” he said.

Nybo ticked off items he contended should be on the November ballot, such as asking voters how the state should deal with its massive pension debt and high property taxes. Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, suggested voters should be asked if lawmakers should be subject to term limits.

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

Gov. Bruce Rauner has said legalizing it would be a mistake, and police officials have also raised concerns.

Cook County voters already will get to weigh in on marijuana this month. Commissioners last year voted to put that question on the primary ballot.