NPR Illinois- Cannabis legislation update and interview with Senator Kelly Cassidy

This week, Illinois Public Radio will be tackling the issue of Cannabis legislation, which has been debated ad nauseam for years at this point. But with the recent election of Governor J.B. Pritzker, who is pro legalization, and some other indicators implying recreational legalization is coming soon that Illinois NPR points out, we thought it be prudent to cover their handling of the issue in their most recent article.

One of those indicators that Illinois NPR reporter Jaclyn Driscoll points out, is the Governors allocation of funds into the 2020 budget for Cannabis business licensing fees. This would obviously indicate that Illinois is preparing for dispensaries to be open for business next year, although it should be pointed out that there are already 55 dispensaries currently in Illinois because Cannabis is legal in the state medically. According to Driscoll there have also been closed door meetings about creating potential legislation for recreational marijuana, although no language from the potential bill has been disclosed.

The lead sponsor of the potential bill, Illinois Democratic Senator Kelly Cassidy, sat down with Driscoll for a 4 minute interview that was transcribed in the article. I already linked it in the introduction but i’ll link it again here. Audio of the interview was also posted. I’ll just do a little bit of analysis on some of the highlights of the interview.

Senator Cassidy gave the usual positive platitudes when talking about Cannabis legislation progress like “The discussions have been great. Very productive, folks are thoughtful and offering ideas, criticisms, suggestions. I’ve felt really good about it.” Given that legalization debate has been going on for years, it can be a little tiring hearing the same old “we’re working on it, check back in a month” attitude legislators have shown on the issue. Driscoll then went into the financial aspect of legalization, questioning how it would be taxed and where the tax money will go. Cassidy makes a good point in arguing that putting money at the center of policy making first will paradoxically lead to less money and worse policy making, but she notes that she understands that money is the most popular topic for lawmakers when it comes to this issue. So, as she notes, there have been thorough discussions of how the funds will be used regarding local government and community health issues. Money shouldn’t be the most popular topic regarding the issue of legalization, it should be social justice, but that money admittedly can function into helping achieve social justice by helping fund schools, hospitals, etc… So it’s undoubtedly important.

Cassidy later gives a snapshot of how legalized Cannabis may look in Illinois. Most importantly regarding this snapshot Cassidy notes, is the issue of overproduction and underproduction. She knows that 55 dispensaries aren’t near enough to satisfy the demands of the Illinois population, and most importantly won’t allow people who consume Cannabis as a medical product to have enough access to satisfy their medical needs. But she doesn’t want to create an issue of overproduction like what happened in Oregon and Washington according to Cassidy. She used the term “grey market” for the dynamic those states have supposedly created by overproduction, where people buy from dispensaries and then sell on the streets.

One of the biggest barriers that Cassidy believes is delaying legalization is the polices fixation on people growing Cannabis in their homes. Police dream up boogieman scenarios where growing Cannabis in your home leads to the most terrible consequences possible. As Cassidy notes, this fear mongering is unsubstantiated. In fact it’s pure garbage and is reminiscent of the attitude of the famous movie Reefer Madness, where a man who gets high on Cannabis goes on a killing spree. If and when legalization does occur, why should the police have the right to interfere with a person’s private production of a legal product? People are already growing in their homes and shocker, nothing terrible has happened. This supposedly big sticking point should be a non issue.

Finally, when asked about the chief goal of her potential legislation, Cassidy declares she wants Illinois to be the “gold standard” for how Cannabis law functions. To her, this includes allowing the industry to grow, allowing users access to Cannabis in safe and legal ways, and some other sort of meaningless platitudes of making a weed industry that looks like the communities of Illinois(Whatever the hell that means). Frankly, it’s a bit disappointing that in her answers of what the chief goal of her potential legislation is, she doesn’t mention anything social justice related. The most important goals of legalization are making sure no human beings ever again get thrown in cages for Cannabis consumption, aren’t financially punished because of Cannabis consumption, and are given full autonomy on what they put into their bodies. But Senator Cassidy deserves credit for leading the charge on legalization in the state, no matter how slow it may be or how pragmatic.

The interview is somewhat informative and worth a read, although Cassidy tends to get a bit generalistic in her answers like most politicians are wont to do. Hopefully legalization will come relatively soon so we can finally put this issue to rest.

By Jake Morask

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