Uniting States of Marijuana: The country's evolving laws on cannabis
There’s a movement among some state lawmakers to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Illinois, but among metro-east legislators and candidates, there isn’t much support for the idea.
State lawmakers have held committee hearings discussing possible legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Currently, marijuana is only legal in Illinois for medical purposes.
Voters in the fall might even vote on an advisory referendum on whether Illinois should join the seven states and District of Columbia that have given the OK for recreational use.
Gubernatorial candidates from the two major parties are essentially divided along party lines on the issue, with the Democrats generally in favor of legalization and Republicans against.
Here’s where local legislators and people running for office stand on the issue:
State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea
“I think there’s more study that needs to go on, and with regard to the action recently taken by the federal government, we’ve got to see what the attorney general’s actions are going to be and the Trump administration’s reaction is going to be to states doing this on a state-by-state basis,” Hoffman said. “Until that plays out, what the federal government is going to do, I doubt we’ll do anything here in Illinois.”
State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo
“After spending the last year researching this issue, I’ve decided to oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana. For me, the risks associated with this proposal still outweigh the projected financial benefits. I’ll continue to support medicinal usage of this drug.”
State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton
Haine was a sponsor of the medical marijuana legislation, and is retiring at the end of his term.
“I’m not in favor. I’m not going to vote for that this session. Frankly, I want to see how we do with medical marijuana before we embark on the experiment that Colorado is involved in, and California … I want to see how they deal with impaired drivers and how Illinois deals with them, before we embark on that experiment. I voted for the decriminalization of it. I thought that was more than reasonable under the law.”
State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville
“I just don’t feel it’s right. I have never seen the need to smoke it myself. It seems like right now in Illinois, we want to raise the smoking age to 21, and yet we want to make marijuana legal, and that is wrong. If you take a survey in the 108th District to represent my constituents, the last time we did, we were strongly against it …We did a survey two years ago I believe, and the people were strongly against legalizing marijuana. People will have to worry about the effects on them while they’re driving.”
He added: “Let’s study it a little more. I know the state of Illinois is broke, and we need to bring jobs in, but I don’t think trying to legalize marijuana to pay off the state debt is the way to do it. I think it’s by bringing in good factory jobs.”
Meier added that marijuana use is still against federal law.
State Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Smithton
“I’m against legalizing marijuana. I’ve got a background in law enforcement. I was a police officer for about 6.5 years. No. 1, in my opinion, marijuana is a gateway drug. No. 2, if you look back I voted against medical marijuana in the smokable form. I did vote for the THC oil, which a lot of times is used for epilepsy patients and I think is something that is more controllable. If you look at the smokable form of marijuana, I think there is an issue with a black market scenario.”
He added, “If you look at Attorney General (Jeff) Sessions and what he said on the federal level, I think it absolutely lends a whole new conversation where states are going who are even thinking about legalizing recreational marijuana.”
State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon
“We’ve spent decades warning kids to stay away from drugs. I don’t understand elected office holders, supposedly leaders, who want to foster more ruin. And apparently, their biggest argument is tax revenue. That’s making money off of misery. I will again just be saying ‘No.’”
Lawmakers who didn’t respond
State Reps. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville; LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis; John Cavaletto, R-Salem; Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey; and state Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Where challengers stand
Those hoping to win a seat in the General Assembly also expressed thoughts on the issue.
Christopher Belt, Cahokia, Democrat running in the 57th State Senate District
“I support legalizing marijuana for recreational use in Illinois. I believe this is an important step in criminal justice reform, by decriminalizing marijuana and decreasing arrests for small amounts of marijuana, while also decreasing the financial burden of prosecuting and incarcerating predominantly younger individuals. The legalization of marijuana would also bring in a new source of revenue and a potential for new jobs in our state at a time when we are desperately seeking solutions for our financial problems.”
Tanya Hildenbrand, Belleville, Republican running in the 57th State Senate District
“I do recognize that marijuana helps a lot of individuals with medical needs. I support those individuals of having medical marijuana usage for individuals with medical needs. I’m still open-minded about this, (but) at this moment I’m not for legalization of marijuana for Illinois because I think it does lead to additional drug usage by a person. I want to do more research on it and talk to more constituents, because I would really be representing the people that elect me to office.”
Bob Romanik, Belleville, Republican running in the 57th State Senate District
“I’m running for office … How I stand really makes no difference, because my personally being for marijuana legalization or against it is not going to make a difference up in Springfield. If elected, I will make a difference because I will have a vote, I will have some influence. My influence is not going to be how I feel about marijuana, how I feel about subjects that will come up to the state legislature either in the House or Senate. It’s what the people who’ve (sent) me to Springfield. It’s how they feel …To ask that question, you need to ask the people in the 57th Senatorial District, and however the majority feel on that, is how I would address it.”
Jason Plummer, Edwardsville, Republican running in the 54th State Senate District
“The idea that recreational marijuana is an innocuous substance with no ill effects on personal or public health is false. When I talk to local law enforcement about the possibility of legalizing cannabis, they point out that where they find marijuana, more dangerous substances are very often present. Research backs up their experience that this drug is a gateway for young people who are now increasingly vulnerable to falling victim to opioid addiction.”
He added: “Marijuana stunts neurological development, damages the lungs, just as cigarettes do, and impairs drivers. Special interests see the potential for huge profits, and advocates for legalization of recreational marijuana see a short-term tax windfall as sufficient to justify allowing the spread of drugs throughout our communities, but I view this as a cynical position that carries a long-term cost to families, communities, employers, law enforcement and addicts themselves. I strongly oppose legalization for recreational purposes.”
George Barber, Greenville, Republican running in the 54th State Senate District
Barber said he would want to speak to “all law enforcement officers, and police chiefs, to get their input on this topic.”
He added: “My personal stance is not to legalize marijuana for recreational use under any circumstances. The data as a health educator has taught me that marijuana is a gateway to other forms of even more dangerous and addictive drugs. This has always been alarming to me, and keeps me from being able to give a nod to its legalization for recreational use.”
Ben Stratemeyer, Centralia, Republican running in the 54th State Senate District
“I would be against it,” he said. “I think we already have enough problems of people driving under the influence. If the marijuana stays in (your) system, then people shouldn’t be driving, and I believe that it is a gateway drug to other drug abuse problems.”
Rafael Him, New Baden, Republican running in the 54th State Senate District
“I do not believe it should be legalized. We already have enough (of a) drug epidemic problem in our state and throughout the country. I just believe it would be an entry drug and create more havoc on our communities.”
Rachelle Aud Crowe, Glen Carbon, Democrat running in the 56th State Senate District
“I’m studying this issue carefully and any legislative action taken should have input from law enforcement, the community, and medical experts. As a prosecutor, I understand this is a nuanced issue. It is a waste of a person’s potential, and police resources, to send them to prison for a small amount of marijuana. However, we also have an opioid epidemic in our state and country, and we need to do everything we can to educate and discourage the abuse of drugs, especially by young people. I’m supportive of considering making medical marijuana available to patients who rely on opioids for chronic pain, to provide patient relief and curb opioid abuse.”
Hal Patton, Edwardsville, Republican running in the 56th State Senate District
“I don’t think we’ve had enough time to really absorb the positive aspects of having medical marijuana available. I have mixed emotions as a health care provider and a parent of teenagers. I just think it’s necessary for us to take a step back and see what the results are of this effort in other states and maybe look at it three and five years out to see if those states have really benefited financially from this, whether they’ve kept individuals out of jail and rehab programs, if it does (have) less punitive effect for someone who does break the law, and then also long term, what are the impacts on the condition of juveniles and younger people who are using this in, I think, in a much more frequent manner, once its legalized. It’s a lot of questions I have.”
Wendy Erhart, Maryville, Republican running in the 112th State House District
“I oppose legalizing marijuana for recreational use. As a mother, I am particularly worried about the potential unintended consequences for young people. We should wait to see how legalization is affecting lives and addiction in states like Colorado and Washington before considering changing Illinois law.”
Dwight Kay, Glen Carbon, Republican running in the 112th State House District
“I do not support it under any circumstances. It has nothing to do other than generate revenue in the state of Illinois with no contemplation of end result, which is addiction, and treatment for addiction and maybe the escalating addiction of marijuana to other drugs, which enhance the feeling or the effect of cannabis.”
Don Moore, Troy, Republican running in the 108th State House District
“I am definitely not a proponent of legalization of marijuana recreationally. It’s not something I want to see our state go to. I think it ends up degrading the state and ends up causing more problems than it solves. I’m also not a proponent of looking for easy ways to raise tax dollars. I feel like that’s a reason politicians want to do it, because you could generate some revenue off of that in the form of taxes. I don’t think that’s a place that I would like our state to go. I don’t think it’s healthy in the long run and I think it causes more problems than it solves.”
David Friess, Red Bud, Republican running in the 116th State House District
“I believe that marijuana can be a gateway drug for many, so I oppose any effort to make recreational marijuana legal in Illinois.”
Jason Madlock, Centreville, Republican running in the 114th State House District
“I am completely for it. There’s a dynamic shift in people using the drug. I personally do not smoke. I’m in the St. Louis area, I’m in a college area, and even the Shiloh-type areas. There’s a lot of individuals themselves, they are smokers. One of the key things is, our police have better things to do than to stop a person for smoking marijuana. If anything, it could also be a taxable asset for the area.”
He added: “It’s something that can be controlled. It’s something that I think, if controlled properly, would do nothing but bring in funds for the state. I think it’s a good thing to support the legalization of it in a controlled way.”
David Seiler, Effingham, Democrat running in the 107th State House District
“As a new person in this whole thing, I’m taking it slow in a lot of these issues … I really want to get a feel for the debates in the legislature. When a bill comes forward, I would be interested in hearing both sides and bring it to my constituents and actually have town hall meetings to have the input of my constituents about it.”
Blaine Wilhour, Beecher City, Republican running in the 107th State House District
“I am absolutely against legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Drug and substance abuse are rotting our culture, degrading our communities, and tearing apart our family structures. It is very clear to me that marijuana is a stepping-stone drug. Any political argument about legalization as a revenue enhancer is a joke in light of the lack of political will to enact any meaningful pro-growth reforms to get our economy going in a real way. We have a growth and competitiveness problem in Illinois. If we truly want to address that, then we should look at reforming worker’s comp, comprehensive property tax reform, regulatory reform and tort reforms among others.”
These candidates did not respond to requests for comment: Doug Jameson, of Belleville, a Republican running for 113th State House District; Mike Babcock, of Bethalto, a Republican running for the 111th State House District; and Laura Myers, of Greenville, a Republican running in the 107th State House District.
Legalization versus decriminalization
Illinois already has somewhat decriminalized possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana. People now can receive a citation and pay a fine of $100 to $200 for having 10 grams or less of marijuana, instead of receiving up to six months of jail time.
But decriminalization is different from legalization. The main distinction is that with legalization, marijuana would be taxed and regulated.
A recent poll of 625 Illinois registered voters conducted by the research firm Mason Dixon Polling and Strategy found 47 percent of respondents were in favor of keeping the state’s marijuana laws as they are now. The poll, however was paid for by Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a nonpartisan group that opposes marijuana legalization.
The poll found 4 percent wanted a repeal of the medical marijuana law, 23 percent were in favor of legalizing marijuana, and 18 percent want all marijuana illegal.
However, a poll last year by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale found 66 percent of respondents said they supported legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois if it is taxed and regulated like alcohol.
Where they stand
State Rep. Jay Hoffman – Issue requires more study
State Sen. Paul Schimpf – Opposed
State Sen. Bill Haine – Opposed
State Rep. Charlie Meier – Opposed
State Rep. Jerry Costello II – Opposed
State Sen. Kyle McCarter – Opposed
Democrat Christopher Belt – In favor
Republican Tanya Hildenbrand – Opposed
Bob Romanik – Wants to hear from constituents
Jason Plummer – Opposed
George Barber – Opposed
Ben Stratemeyer – Opposed
Rafael Him – Opposed
Rachelle Aud Crowe – Studying the issue
Hal Patton – Issue requires more study
Wendy Erhart – Opposed
Dwight Kay – Opposed
Don Moore – Opposed
David Friess – Opposed
Jason Madlock – In favor
David Seiler - Wants to hear from constituents
Blaine Wilhour - Opposed