Marijuana industry opponent has message for Democrat governor hopefuls who support pot's legalization
Illinois Democrat gubernatorial hopefuls' support for legal marijuana is effectively inviting the industry dubbed Big Tobacco 2.0 into the state, the founder of a marijuana industry pushback group said during a recent interview.
"Legalizing and commercializing marijuana will create the next 'Big Tobacco' industry of our time," Marijuana Accountability Coalition founder Justin Luke Riley said during an email interview with Prairie State Wire. "A new industry of lobbyists and special interests intends to put profits and special interests over public health and safety regulations."
The coalition was founded in early November for individuals and organizations to join in a "constituency of activists" in events and campaigns against the marijuana industry, according to information at the coalition's website.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Illinois since 2013 when the General Assembly passed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, signed by then Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn.
It's difficult to find a Democrat vying for their party's pick to run against incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner who doesn't support recreational marijuana legalization in Illinois. Business owner Alex Paterakis, Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber and community organizer Tio Hardiman have said they favor legal recreational marijuana in Illinois.
Democrat gubernatorial hopeful Chris Kennedy says on his campaign website that he "supports expanding access to medical marijuana and decriminalizing marijuana in Illinois. He believes we should not prosecute and overcrowd our jails because of possession of a modest amount of marijuana."
State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and entrepreneur J.B. Pritzker said during a debate in October that they support legalizing recreational marijuana in Illinois. During that debate, Biss and Pritzker said their support for legalized weed was aimed at keeping people from running afoul of the state's criminal justice system, which they said too often nets minority groups into harsher penalties for what currently are marijuana-related crimes in Illinois.
Riley said those are flawed arguments that he has heard before. "Unfortunately, many leaders across the nation blindly accept the claims made by big industry," he said.
"Their claims to improve communities, their claims to be a segment of the legitimate medical industry, or their claims that the commercialization of marijuana is a phenomenal idea in general. When in reality the commercialization of marijuana negatively impacts communities, is far from a legitimate medical practice and they are poised to be the next big tobacco, which would create a catastrophic public health and safety disaster," he said.
Biss, a former University of Chicago mathematics professor, has represented Illinois' 9th Senate District since January 2013. His term is set to expire in January 2019.
The Democrat primary to select a candidate for Illinois governor is scheduled for March.
Rauner has said he does not support legalization of marijuana in Illinois. However, in July 2016, Rauner signed into law a measure that reduced punishment for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana to a $100 to $200 fine, dropping it from the misdemeanor charge that carried possible jail time.
His announced Republican challenger, state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton), has a voting record of being against legislation that would ease marijuana laws in Illinois.