Cannabis Reform Candidate and Ballot Measure Win Big in Illinois Primary Election
Democrats advanced legal marijuana advocate J.B. Pritzker to November’s gubernatorial election, while voters in Chicago approved a non-binding measure to legalize pot.
Published on March 21, 2018

Photo via Pedro Szekely

Illinois took one more step towards becoming the Midwest’s first state to legalize recreational cannabis this week, as Prairie State voters made marijuana reform a key focus of Tuesday’s statewide primary election.

As reported by Forbes, residents in Cook County, Illinois, home to Chicago and its suburbs, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a non-binding cannabis legalization ballot measure — essentially asking county residents their opinion of legalization while not actually changing the legal status of the plant.

The “reeferendum,” which amassed approval from some two-thirds of county voters, stated: "Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?"

With citywide decriminalization already dropping Chicago’s cannabis arrest numbers to a historic low in 2017, it appears that Cook County residents are ready to make the leap to total legalization.

"The amount of police manpower that goes into arresting people for marijuana use is a big problem,” Leslie Flavian, a resident of Chicago suburb Skokie, told the Chicago Tribune. ‘The number of people who have been in our jails for marijuana use seems ridiculous. There are a lot of other crimes to pursue than for smoking marijuana.”

Outside of Cook County’s populous hub, Democrats across the state took to the polls on Tuesday to support a pro-cannabis candidate to represent them in November’s contest for Illinois governor.

Collecting just over 45% of the vote, J.B. Pritzker won the Democratic nomination for November’s race, where he will run against incumbent governor Republican Bruce Rauner. Throughout the primary process, Pritzker has time and again expressed his support for comprehensive cannabis legalization, promising to legalize the plant for recreational use if he is elected.

“I also support legalizing and taxing recreational use of marijuana, which is estimated to generate as much as $700 million a year for the state," Pritzker said last month, according to Forbes. "No more studies are needed to show it’s time for Illinois to safely move forward and legalize marijuana. As governor, I will modernize drug laws and move Illinois towards a criminal justice system that gives all Illinoisans a chance to reach their full potential."

With official support from the state’s largest county now on record, Pritzker appears to be walking the same path as recently-elected New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, who made legalization a central focus of his winning campaign. Similarly, Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic candidate in Ohio’s upcoming gubernatorial election, has hitched his horse to legal weed.

But, as Murphy has shown in New Jersey, standing behind cannabis reform is one thing, but actually enacting legalization from the governor’s mansion can prove significantly more difficult. Murphy is still fighting for a regulated and taxed marijuana market in the Garden State, but with pushback from legislators and local municipalities, the governor’s original 100-day plan is now all but impossible.

Still, if Cook County is any indication, Illinois residents will be behind Pritzker’s 420-friendly policy positions wholeheartedly. And in the same vein as Chicagoland's non-binding legalization question, a piece of legislation currently moving through the Illinois state house would add an exploratory legalization referendum to November’s general election, which, if successful, could give pro-cannabis lawmakers and state officials even more momentum to pursue full marijuana legalization.

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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