Advocates believe it’s an opportune time to propose legislation to legalize marijuana, with Democrats controlling the governor’s office and both legislative chambers.
Ammons has held her own meetings with stakeholders to craft her legislation, and said she isn’t trying to disrupt the Steans/Cassidy bill, but is trying to make sure that whatever bill is passed addresses damage done by imprisoning minorities at higher rates for drug offenses.
“The conversation needs to shift to how we’re going to address the disproportionate harm in our communities,” she said. “We want to make sure people who have been criminalized can become part of the economy.”
Steans and Cassidy still are negotiating with various parties such as other lawmakers, the governor’s office and law enforcement, and plan to introduce a bill by April.
“We’re working with a lot of organizations and the administration to do an updated draft of the bill,” Steans said. “It’s not going to pass before May. We may have several iterations to go to get a draft and negotiate again.”
As Michigan legalizes marijuana, the race is on with Illinois for 1st commercial sales in Midwest
One obvious difference between their proposal and Ammons’ is that they would limit residents to five home-grown plants, rather than 24, citing concerns by police about home-grown plants contributing to a black market.
They also are not proposing consumption areas, due to problems seen elsewhere with odors and local opposition to marijuana “cafes.”
Like Ammons’ proposal, Steans and Cassidy would expunge certain nonviolent drug offenses, and encourage minority ownership of marijuana businesses and investment in minority communities.
As an indication of how various interests will fight over how to divvy up tax revenue from the new industry, Ammons’ bill would create a 10 percent excise tax on marijuana and send 30 percent of the proceeds to a state school fund; 50 percent to the General Fund; and 2.5 percent each to the State Employees Retirement Pension, Teachers Retirement System, State Universities Retirement System and to Illinois State Police, to hire and train drug enforcement officers.
Her bill would allow existing medical marijuana businesses to sell recreational pot as well, but she said the new program should include a majority of minority license holders. To prevent poorer entrepreneurs from being priced out, as with medical marijuana licenses, she would limit application and licensing fees to $5,000.
To present their proposals, both Ammons, and Steans and Cassidy, plan to hold town hall meetings on the issue before legislative hearings.
“It’s a big subject,” Ammons said. “We can’t rush it through.”
Opponents hope to make their voice heard at any upcoming hearings.
Brian Fengel, president of the Illinois Chiefs of Police Association, said his group members want to negotiate with legislators to minimize the danger from people driving while high, and they want funding to train local police on recognizing drugged driving.
In contrast to many black lawmakers, such as Ammons, the Illinois NAACP has been reported to oppose legalization.
Drugs have already done too much damage in minority communities, said Tim McAnarney, lobbyist for Healthy and Productive Illinois, a coalition of anti-marijuana organizations. “We don’t understand how putting more drugs into those communities is going to help them,” he said.
Decriminalization has already addressed overdue concerns about arrests for small amounts of marijuana, McAnarney said. He also supports new proposals to expunge past convictions as well.
If marijuana is legalized, the coalition hopes to at least eliminate home-grown pot, McAnarney said, because some of it will inevitably supply the black market. And the coalition adamantly opposes edible cannabis candies, soda pop and other treats that appeal to children.
Whatever legalization looks like, McAnarney said, it will never raise enough money for all the special interests fighting over a slice of the pie.
“There’s no amount of taxation,” he said, “that would raise enough money for all the people who think they’re going to benefit.”