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Our View

Our view: Don't miss chance to weigh in on legal pot proposals

Lead grower Dave Wilson cares for marijuana plants Sept. 15, 2015, at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion.
Lead grower Dave Wilson cares for marijuana plants Sept. 15, 2015, at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion.

We can’t guarantee recreational marijuana will be made legal in Illinois, but it’s an absolute certainty that the topic is going to command significant attention during the current legislative session.

As Capitol News Illinois reported earlier this week, state Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy, both key Chicago Democrats, have met with interested groups around Illinois and are expected to introduce legislation soon. But Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, is ahead of the curve and already has introduced a bill that is more expansive than what analysts expected to come from the Chicago contingent.

Ammons’ proposal is House Bill 902, dubbed the Cannabis Legalization Equity Act. The word “equity” is notable because many of the included provisions put marijuana on the same level with how the state regulates alcohol. Broadly speaking, each is a mind-altering substance a majority of adults can tolerate in moderation, and reformers have long argued that since prohibition of alcohol proved to be a colossal failure, there’s little reason to maintain the same approach with marijuana.

Under Ammons’ plan, the age for legally buying and possessing up to a half-pound of marijuana would be set at 21. It would be illegal to drive under the influence, as it is with alcohol, and selling would be limited to only “legitimate, tax-paying businesspeople.”

Also keeping things on the level with alcohol, Ammons’ bill would allow people to grow as many as 24 marijuana plants in their own homes for personal consumption. Since homebrewing of beer is a legal – and locally thriving – hobby, it only makes sense to make the same provisions for marijuana. The legal framework already is established, and allowing home-growing shows Ammons’ plan really is about equity and not only trying to create a new highly taxable marketplace for pot retailers and large-scale growers.

That’s not to say the plan would generate no revenue. Ammons calls for a 10 percent excise tax on the sale or transfer of marijuana from a cultivating facility to a retail store. Half would be paid into the general fund, while
30 percent would go to the Common School Fund. The remaining 20 percent would be divided among various state retirement systems; the Department of Human Services to fund treatment programs for tobacco, alcohol and marijuana abuse; and the Department of State police for hiring and training drug recognition efforts.

At this juncture, it seems likely that HB 109 will be the most liberal marijuana proposal on the table. Whatever Steans and Cassidy devise still would be a departure from decades of public policy, but it also will represent a comparatively more modern goal post. While debate is likely to happen between those two points, there also is the option of doing nothing and leaving the state’s drug laws as they are, and already there are organizations such as the Illinois Catholic Conference on record as opposing any form of marijuana legalization beyond the already approved medical uses.

We invite our readers to share their opinions on these proposals through letters, and more importantly, to reach out to local lawmakers to make those feelings known. Change is not a given, but debate and discussion are inevitable. If you feel strongly about this issue, don’t sit out and wait for a decision – become a key part of the political process.

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