Marijuana Legalization Leader: Illinois Just Made New York And New Jersey Look Like Dorks

“It’s hard to do it legislatively, I admit,” NJ Gov. Phil Murphy Photo: AP/Seth Wenig

Illinois just became the unofficial 11th state in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use. But more important than that, it bent legal weed hopefuls New York and New Jersey over its knee and gave them a vicious spanking that they will not soon forget. Both Eastern states have been fighting to put cannabis legalization on the books since dinosaurs walked the Earth, but everyone involved with the process keeps showing up for work in clown shoes.

For whatever reason, lawmakers in that part of the country are confused about how to establish a taxed and regulated pot market while also keeping the social equity aspect in mind. And we have got to hand it to them – they almost convinced the nation that passing such a comprehensive bill through legislative channels was like pulling a shark’s teeth while it gnaws on your leg. “It’s hard to do it legislatively, I admit,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

But then Illinois swept in last week and approved what is considered the most progressive cannabis law in the nation. And it did it just hours before lawmakers called it quits for the summer.

It turns out that marijuana legalization might not be so challenging to do legislatively after all.

Not only does this move give adults 21 and older the freedom to purchase marijuana through retail outlets, but it is also the first of its kind in the history of this decades-long movement to include provisions designed to correct problems stemming from the misguided principals of prohibition.

New York and New Jersey, this is where you might want to pay close attention.

The law in Illinois, which is set to take effect January 2020, comes with a plan to expunge the criminal records of around 770,000 people convicted of minor pot offenses. It also creates opportunities for minorities to capitalize on the new cannabis trade — giving them points toward licensing for living in oppressed areas.

It’s not a perfect plan, but it is a significant first step in the right direction. At least some social justice advocates seem to think so.

“By committing funds to remove past marijuana-related convictions, the state has prioritized equity and the removal of barriers that prevent people from moving forward in their lives,” Robert Rooks, Vice President of Alliance for Safety and Justice, said in a statement. “We were proud to advocate for this important change and applaud Illinois leaders for their attention to a reform that ensures fairness and safety for communities that bore the disproportionate brunt of the drug war.”

So, it is Illinois — 1. New York and New Jersey – 0.

Although 2019 was supposed to be the best year the nation has seen concerning cannabis reform – especially since New York and New Jersey were supposedly shoo-ins to be the next to legalize weed – it has been mostly one disappointment right after another. The inability to reach an agreement on social and criminal justice issues, not to mention taxes are mostly to blame.

Sadly, New Jersey recently tossed in the towel on all of this marijuana legalization business because time after time, they have failed to come to terms. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who was responsible for securing votes on this matter, has decided to let the voters hash it out in the 2020 election.

“We are not going to move forward with adult use marijuana at this time. It’s something I feel strongly in, but the votes aren’t there,” Sweeney said back in May during a press conference.

The best the state can offer its residents, at this moment, is an upgrade to its medical marijuana program. The Murphy administration recently announced that it was accepting applications for a slew of cultivators and dispensaries to take the program to a new level. The goal is to add around 100 more cannabis businesses to the New Jersey marketplace. But make no mistake, while this move might give the illusion that state officials are making progress on marijuana, they are not.

New York bungled marijuana legalization in much of the same way. This is perhaps the most frustrating collision of common sense we have witnessed so far this year. I mean, it was almost guaranteed that the state was going to legalize the leaf in 2019, especially since Governor Cuomo, a rabid opposing force against cannabis reform for many years, rose up toward the end of last year and proclaimed a need for legal weed posthaste. He planned to revamp the system that “for too long targeted the African-American and minority communities” by legalizing “the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all.”

And then all of the hands came-a-begging. Lawmakers wanted it this way, business groups wanted it another, black leaders refused to support any measure if it did not come with opportunities for minority groups to get in on the action. The bickering just went on and on. In a lot of ways, it never stopped.

Now, Cuomo has lost his drive for legal weed. He said recently that the legislature doesn’t have the votes to go the distance. Moreover, because lawmakers only have 11 days or so before the session is finished up for the summer, Cuomo just doesn’t believe legalization is “feasible” this year.

“I don’t think it matters how much I push in 11 days,” he said. “I think when the Senate says we don’t have the votes, I take them at the word.”

But all of this loss is Illinois’ gain.

A report from Crain’s Chicago Business indicates that the Land of Lincoln will have one of the most lucrative cannabis markets in the United States. It is a cash cow that is expected to grow in upwards of 20 times larger than its medicinal sector, creating tens of thousands of new jobs and generating revenue to the tune of $1.6 billion annually.

Much of the same could have been readily available to New York and New Jersey, but pettiness and the inability to compromise ultimately sabotaged prosperity.

Nice job, dorks!