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Will Illinois Legalize Adult-Use Marijuana This Year?


One of the major marijuana adult-use legalization storylines of 2019 has been the battle to legalize cannabis in Illinois. While the debate has been ongoing for a couple of years, there are several reasons the prospects for adult-use legalization are better for Illinois this year.

One reason is the growing success of the state’s medical marijuana program. Every state that has legalized adult-use marijuana so far had an established medical cannabis program prior to that.

Another is the fact that, amid debate last year in the legislature, non-bonding votes by the Illinois Senate and voters in Cook County showed legalization has broad popular support among citizens and lawmakers alike.

Adult-use legalization is also doing well in polls, with a recent survey showing 66% support. So with all the momentum behind it, what’s the problem with getting adult-use legalization passed? In a word: time.

“This year has seen outreach and public town hall events on the subject in many different locations throughout the state,” Kelvin McCabe, a criminal defense attorney and member of the Illinois NORML Board of Directors, told The Marijuana Times. “Our group had a lobby day in February with our sister chapter ChicagoNORML down in Springfield. The one caveat or perhaps gripe [about progress so far], is that we are now into May with a month or so left in the legislative session and we are still missing official substantive language of what the bill looks like. This makes it difficult to answer questions about specifics from our organization’s members or the general public. The town halls have allowed for some teasing of ideas to get out for those playing close attention [and which are likely to be in the bill] but we are anxious for the full language to finally drop. It should be available any day now. Luckily, there is still time to get a bill passed in the legislature before the session ends and with a supportive governor, hopes of passage are pretty high. All puns intended.”

And of course, the march toward legalization has not been without a very vocal opposition, including a Sheriff who claimed last year that legalization would lead to dead dogs. “The obstacles we have seen in IL are similar to the obstacles other states face when something of this magnitude is proposed,” Kelvin said. “This is a major change in the law. So the usual small but vocal opponents are out. Typically those who benefit from prohibition are involved in the opposition. So mainly law enforcement related organizations and those affiliated with professional prohibitionist groups like projectSAM are the main public opposition. We are confident that IL lawmakers are aware that cannabis polls very well in IL and is supported by an overwhelming majority of residents. Poll after poll have shown this to be true as well as advisory questions on election ballots, so we are hopeful legislators will listen to the people here rather than sources who are consistently and repeatedly wrong about most of their chicken little predictions of doom and gloom.”

While most of the Illinois GOP and a small number of Democrats oppose legalization, there should still be enough votes to get a bill to a Governor who is eager to sign one, Kelvin told us.

What is needed now more than ever is pressure on lawmakers to get legalization done. With time running short, Kelvin said, people in Illinois need to make their voices heard to their representatives about legalization in general and about individual aspects of legalization as well. “For example, personal cultivation is a huge desire for ILNORML’s members. If it’s ‘legal’ our members want the option to grow some of their own. There is evidence that law enforcement wants that removed from any legalization bill and are targeting that specifically in their opposition efforts. So if people want that and we know that they do because they keep telling us [and we agree with our members, personal cultivation needs to be in any bill], they have to let their elected officials know.”

Beyond that, joining groups like ILNORML can be very helpful, especially if you are looking to connect with other activists in Illinois. “We are getting down to the wire here and we need the public’s help more than ever,” Kelvin said.