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Public radio stations throughout Illinois joined forces to tackle the issue of marijuana as the state considers making recreational use legal.

Republican Backer Of Recreational Cannabis Says No To Proposal

Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS
Bloomington state Sen. Jason Barickman has been an important Republican at the negotiating table for the legalization of recreational cannabis. But, he said he does not support the current proposal.

Illinois has officially proposed legalizing cannabis for adults 21 years and older by Jan. 1, 2020. But as details of the legislation emerge, so does the opposition. 

The idea of legalization has support on both sides of the aisle and Bloomington state Sen. Jason Barickman has been an important Republican at the negotiating table. But, he said he does not support this proposal

"There's some very controversial issues related to the manner in which the governor proposes to legalize cannabis," he said. "And on those controversial issues, while there was discussion on them, there was not an agreement from the parties in the room on how to address them." 

One of those issues is the mass expungement of criminal records for drug possession. In Saturday's press conference, state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) said around 800,000 records would be eligible for expungement under this proposal. 

Barickman said the governor "very controversially" proposed to expunge offenses that remain illegal even after legalization. In the proposal, it would be legal to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis but offenses for up to 500 grams would be eligible for expungement. 

State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) said that doesn't really paint a clear picture, because while legal possession is up to 30 grams, dispensaries will be allowed to possess cannabis in much greater quantities. 

"People who have been involved in low level dealing, up to 500 grams, which is a little over a pound... we want them to actually be able to go and work legally in the industry now," said Steans. Those are the records we're going to be targeting and (selling 500 grams) is now going to be a legal activity."

Barickman said he believes Gov. J.B. Pritzker has the authority to expunge records with the powers given to him in the constitution, suggesting that expungement is included in the proposal for purely political reasons.   

"It appears to be designed to appeal to those democratic votes," he said.  

Barickman also took issue with the way the revenue from the program would be allocated, specifically with the creation of a new grant that would be eligible to communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. Twenty-five percent of revenues from the recreational program would fund this grant. 

Steans said the Restoring Our Communities (ROC) grant is vital. 

Heather Steans
Credit Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois
NPR Illinois

"I think it's incredibly important to have money going to the communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs," said Steans. "I mean this is just a plain social justice issue." 

Barickman said he was "supportive of the initiative" but felt the money could be better spent paying down Illinois' bill backlog. 

"The public expects that if there's anything in Illinois that generates new money, that we're not just going to spend it," he said. "That we're going to pay down some of our debts and I don't think that's acknowledged here in a meaningful way." 

The proposal does allocate 10 percent of the funding to go towards unpaid bills in the state. 

Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell said legalizing cannabis was never about raising revenue anyway:  "The governor has said from the beginning-- this is about social equity and criminal justice."

Barickman indicated the governor has not embraced some of the ideas put forth by Republicans involved in negotiations. He said he was continuously told his concerns "were taken under advisement," but didn't believe the proposal really addressed them. 

Mitchell said he believed that characterization to be "inaccurate." In fact, he said the 10 percent of funding going toward the bill backlog was a Republican request. Mitchell said the way the tax structure is written is the result of a bipartisan effort.

"This is not a final product and the Governor's Office is very open to negotiations," said Mitchell. "But there are other voices that matter in this other than the Republican caucus." 

Jaclyn has an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a BS in History form Monmouth College. Prior to reporting, Jaclyn was a social science teacher and department chair at Greenfield High School. Previously, Jaclyn reported for WICS Newschannel 20 where she covered a variety of assignments including courts, politics, and breaking news. She also reported at Siouxland News in Sioux City Iowa, the shared CBS/Fox television newsroom. Her internships included WGN and Comcast SportsNet in Chicago.
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