Rauner’s reefer madness rules despite overwhelming support for legal pot | Bleader

Rauner’s reefer madness rules despite overwhelming support for legal pot

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MARZENA ABRAHAMIK
  • Marzena Abrahamik

As if anyone needed another reason to oust Bruce Rauner, consider this: there will never be legalized marijuana in Illinois as long as he's governor.

Just in case his attempts to bankrupt public education weren't enough of a deterrent to casting a vote for his reelection.

All right, on the week of 4/20, the time has come for me to answer a few questions about the state’s effort to catch up with the rest of the modern world and legalize reefer.


Or, as the pols like to put it—legalize the recreational use of marijuana. As though smoking reefer were like playing flag football.

So the first question is—isn't it already legal?

You'd be surprised how many people have asked me this in the aftermath of last month’s referendum on legalization, which passed by 68 percent of the vote in Cook County and 73 percent in Chicago.

Unfortunately, that was a nonbinding advisory referendum. I'd say it was worthless except that the results should shoot down any attempt by anyone not named Rauner to argue that the public is against legalization.

I'll get to the Rauner situation, but first, another question—isn't there already a bill to legalize it in the works?

Yes. State rep Kelly Cassidy and state senator Heather Steans—two north-side Democrats—have been dutifully crafting a bill for several months.

"We're in a holding pattern," says Cassidy. "We're continuing to work out a draft. But there are a lot of factors at play."


With all due respect to Cassidy and Steans, if it were up to me, I'd have legalized marijuana years ago for the simple fact that it's grossly unfair and unjust to have a situation where black people are routinely arrested for something that white people get away with doing all the time.

The only sensible solution is legalization, unless you want to start arresting white kids in Winnetka as though they were black kids in Englewood. And I doubt even Rauner wants to do that. After all, he lives in Winnetka.

Also, it's time once and for all to end the so-called war on drugs that has been savagely destroying too many lives, families, and neighborhoods for too many years.

Now that I think about it—had cops treated kids in Winnetka like kids in Englewood, the war on drugs would have been ended years ago.

Alas, the legislature is filled with nervous Nellies—they’re afraid to vote for legalization because someone, somewhere, might accuse them of being soft on crime.

Cassidy and Steans are trying to calm the nerves of these legislative worrywarts by ironing out a few wrinkles in their bill, such as making sure that whatever revenue the state raises from taxing reefer helps pay for adequate drug-prevention education in our schools.


"We can't just have a just-say-no-to-drugs approach, which is how they did it when you and I were in school," says Cassidy.

God bless you, Kelly Cassidy. You're just being nice to me. You know I’m at least a generation older than you are. The anti-pot-smoking teaching device of my youth wasn't Nancy Reagan's just-say-no admonition but a don’t-do-it-or-you’ll-be-sorry movie called Reefer Madness.

As I recall, the antidrug part of health class came soon after the unit on basic human reproduction, which featured a riveting slide show on the fertilization of the egg by the sperm. Leading 11-year-old me to proclaim—why am I always the last to know these things?

In retrospect I realize that Reefer Madness probably did more harm than good to the antidrug cause, as the general conclusion of the older kids was that it was way more hilarious to watch when you were stoned.

By the way, one revealing tidbit that Cassidy and Steans have unearthed in their research on the subject is that studies show teenage consumption of marijuana goes down in states where it's legalized.

"There are two basic reasons," Cassidy explains. "One, it loses its cachet if it's legal. And, two, it’s harder to obtain. I mean, the drug dealer on the street is not asking for your ID."

So now that we've pretty much eliminated any reason to oppose legalization, why won't it pass?

That brings us back to Governor Rauner, who vows to veto a legalization bill. And since there aren't enough Democrats to override his veto, house speaker Michael Madigan probably won't let it be called for a vote.

Why is Rauner so opposed to legalization? There's his stated reason—it would lead to more teenage use. We've already dealt with that.

And there's his probable unstated reason—he wants to look tough for his Republican base, which is still mad at him for signing the reproductive rights bill HB 40 last fall. Guess the base is still fighting the culture wars of the 60s.

If it were up to me I'd introduce a bill, if only because Rauner vetoes are so entertainingly hypocritical to watch. We learned that last year, when he vetoed the income tax hike only to hold a press conference with Mayor Rahm to celebrate the distribution of revenue to schools after Madigan did the hard work of rounding up the votes to override him.

But Madigan doesn't see the world the way I do—at least not when it comes to legalization. And he'd just as soon not put his Democratic caucus members in a tough situation where they'd have to vote the way their constituents want only to be hit with a barrage of Rauner-funded campaign mailings calling them soft on crime.

So the war on drugs continues—reefer madness, indeed.

For what it's worth, J.B. Pritzker—Rauner's Democratic opponent—says he supports legalization. Like I said, one more reason for change at the top.

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