Cook County ballot question on legalizing weed blazes ahead

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Cook County commissioners voted unanimously for a referendum item on the March ballot that would allow voters to weigh in on legalizing recreational marijuana. | File photo

Cook County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously voted to move marijuana legalization talks to the voters, meaning they will see an advisory question on the March ballot.

John Fritchey, D-Chicago, is the chief sponsor and creator of the referendum item. He called it a “logical progression on moving conversations forward on legalizing marijuana.”

“We have to let our constituents be heard and this is a non-binding step in that direction,” Fritchey said. “I’m very confident that if voters are given the chance to voice their opinions, they’ll show support for this issue.”

Fritchey has been a staunch advocate for legalization in the county. Marijuana works differently than alcohol, tobacco or opiods, he says. Easing access to it “can be one of the easiest things we can do to ease the opiod crisis” because the drug can be used for chronic pain.

The non-binding measure, he says, is more about creating stepping stones to criminal justice reforms and “unclogging” the criminal justice system than bringing in revenue for the state — in Illinois, penalties vary, but for possession someone may face a minimum $100 fine for less than 10 grams or a Class B misdemeanor for more than 10 grams.

In October, Fritchey called on the Illinois General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 316 and House Bill 2353 that would establish a path forward for marijuana “legalization, regulation and taxation.” Fritchey was also involved in legislation that passed in 2013.

Though there are still many obstacles in the way of complete legalization, Fritchey says he believes it has a real chance of happening.

“A few election cycles ago calling for a decriminalization of marijuana could be a political career ender,” Fritchey said. “I think some of the change is people realizing the sky isn’t going to fall.”

Commissioners on Wednesday also voted to strengthen their anti-sexual harassment measures and for $1.6 million in additional funding for transportation projects in the county.

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