Metro-East News

Daiber noncommittal on recreational marijuana, prefers ballot initiative

Gubernatorial hopeful Bob Daiber, who serves as Madison County’s education chief, appears to be trying to straddle the marijuana-legalization issue.

The campaign of Daiber, the Madison County regional superintendent of schools, told Capitol Fax that he is “still researching the legalization of marijuana recreationally and cannot weigh in on one side or the other.”

Capitol Fax reported that Daiber’s campaign provided a statement saying he is “in favor of a ballot initiative to allow voters to legalize marijuana of their own free will, similar to what had occurred in Colorado and Washington.”

Capitol Fax author Rich Miller wrote that when he informed Daiber’s campaign that Illinois doesn’t have binding ballot initiatives, the campaign responded that Daiber “feels that even though it would be non-binding, he would base his decision to pass legislation legalizing recreational marijuana based on the will of the people.”

Daiber is one of a handful of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to run for governor in 2018, some of whom favor legalization.

Daiber told the News-Democrat that as an education administrator, it’s a difficult issue for him. He said drug use accounts for about 80 percent of school expulsions.

“I’ve always been against drug use, especially in schools,” he said. “I’ve dealt a lot with kids who have been expelled from school because of drug use.”

I’ve always been against drug use, especially in schools. I’ve dealt a lot with kids who have been expelled from school because of drug use.

Bob Daiber, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful

Daiber said there also are questions about workplace drug-testing and employee drug use, particularly among employees who “work dangerous jobs who may imperil the safety of themselves and others.”

Still, he said he’d like to hear what voters want.

“This is a growing social issue. There’s some movement in the state with people wanting this legalized, so I think the way to find out is to do a ballot initiative — find out,” he said. “If there was a non-binding referendum, and voters told me it should be legal, I would support the view of the people, and that’s how I feel about it.”

Other social issues, such as gay marriage and concealed carry of firearms and the death penalty, have long been resolved in Illinois. Social issues often drive voters to the polls, but Daiber said he hopes recreational marijuana doesn’t become a “sidetrack” issue in the campaign.

“I hope we stay focused on the real issue: that Illinois needs to have a budget, and we have to pay our bills,” he said.

I hope we stay focused on the real issue: that Illinois needs to have a budget, and we have to pay our bills.

Bob Daiber, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful

Commenters on the Capitol Fax site noted a new poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, which showed 74 percent of Illinois voters support or strongly support decriminalizing marijuana. About 66 percent support or strongly support legalization of recreational marijuana — taxing and regulating it like alcohol.

One commenter wrote: “Daiber is Sean Landetta on this one. If you’re going to punt, make sure that you get the ball downfield. Come on school guy. Do your homework. Campaign for governor in a state this cash-strapped and you didn’t think this was a question you should be prepared to answer?”

Another wrote: “The time for Democratic candidates trying to sit on the fence — on any issue — ended November 8th of last year. Not taking a stand in the race is the fastest way to show us you won’t take a stand when you’re in office, and nobody’s voting for that anymore.”

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner told WGN-AM 20: “I’m not a believer that legalizing more drugs will help our society, so I’m not philosophically enthusiastic about it, but I’m also open to what actually works to make life better to people.”

Rauner told the station that friends in Colorado “have told me some pretty terrible things about addiction problems and behavior problems, etc. over there in Denver,” and added: “I just believe we’re conducting a massive human experiment as we legalize these drugs.”

Among other Democratic hopefuls, Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar and state Sen. Daniel Biss said they support legalization of recreational marijuana.

The campaign of Chris Kennedy, another Democrat, told Capitol Fax that he “supports decriminalizing marijuana in Illinois. He believes we should not be prosecuting and crowding our jails over simple possession of marijuana. He is reviewing studies done on the effects of legalization in other states before determining if legalization would be right for Illinois.”

Two Illinois state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would allow residents 21 and older to possess, grow or buy up to an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana and license businesses to sell marijuana products subject to regulation. They say it would help fill Illinois’ multibillion-dollar budget hole with $350 million to $700 million in new tax revenue.