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Marijuana big issue in Illinois governor’s race

SPRINGFIELD —  Democratic and Republican candidates for Illinois governor are divided on marijuana legalization.

Democratic hopefuls, including billionaire J.B. Pritzker, all favor legalization. Republican challenger Jeanne Ives and incumbent Bruce Rauner are opposed to making marijuana legal.

If cannabis becomes legal for recreational use in Illinois, the state would join nine states and Washington D.C. State Dems say legalization would be a source of much-needed revenue and play a major role in Illinois’ criminal justice reform.

Nine states and Washington, D.C. have already legalized recreational marijuana. Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for governor say it’s time Illinois follows suit, arguing the move would bring in needed revenue and be a major step toward criminal justice reform.

Progressive Democrat Dan Biss said if elected, he’d commute marijuana-related sentences en masse with a model used in San Francisco, where they tossed thousands of convictions dating back to 1975.

“I’m committed to a criminal justice agenda that focuses on rehabilitation and community investment rather than mass incarceration — and we must make sure that no one gets left behind,” Biss said.

According to Democrats, decriminalizing recreational use would help tackle its unpaid bill total that’s now at about $9 billion, the Associated Press reported Monday.

“We must review and commute the sentences of people incarcerated for marijuana offenses in Illinois,” Pritzker told the AP. “It’s time to bring the era of mass incarcerations for minor drug offenses to an end.”

Besides Pritzker and Biss, educator Bob Daiber; businessman Chris Kennedy; activist Tio Hardiman and Dr. Robert Marshall, a physician, are vying for the Democratic nomination. There are no Republicans running against Ives. Conservative radio host William J. Kelley decided the day before the established party filing date to run as an independent.

Rauner implemented the Illinois medical marijuana pilot program in 2015, but has fought against efforts to expand the list of conditions the plant can legally treat. Ives also opposes the use of cannabis for medical purposes. The program expires in 2020.

Kennedy, son of late Sen.Robert Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, said he would also commute marijuana sentences, but not en masse. His administration would review them on a case-by-case basis. He said he’d ask the University of Illinois to oversee legalization and act as an independent third party seeking no profits.

Marshall and Daiber have similar views on recreational use. Daiber wants to bring the matter to voters.  Hardiman wants to legalize small amounts of marijuana. In 2016, Rauner made possession of small amounts a civil infraction rather than a crime. Prosecuting those low-level offenses, he said, is a drain on taxpayer dollars. But, Rauner is still against legalization.

“I do not support legalizing marijuana,” Rauner said. “I think that’s a mistake. You know there’s a massive human experiment going on in Colorado and California and other places. We should see how that’s impacting lives and addiction and hurting young people before we make any decision about it here.” N.