Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday ridiculed Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis for suggesting that marijuana be legalized and taxed because it’s a “great revenue source.”
“I do not think you should balance the budget by promoting recreational smoking of pot,” the mayor said.
“I’ve balanced the budget three years in a row by holding the line on property, sales and gas taxes. Every year, we’ve put money back in the rainy day fund. We also banned flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes within 500 feet of a school, so we have fewer kids smoking cigarettes….I don’t think the way to balance the budget is to promote smoking of marijuana…You have to make the tough decisions and show the leadership to do the real things that are necessary to balance the budget.”
Her campaign spokesperson Emma Tai responded to the mayor with a prepared statement that explained why Lewis “supports legalizing and taxing” the sale of marijuana.
“First and foremost, legalization would not only break the cycle of racially discriminatory pot arrests, but it would bringthe sale and useof marijuana — which is already happening in all corners of Chicago — above board, where it can be regulated and controlled,” Tai wrote.“A robust system of taxation and regulation, like what’s in place already with tobacco and alcohol, would generate revenue and decreaseuse by minors.”
On Wednesday night, Lewis responded to the mayor’s pot put-down aftera Q&A session at a Chatham church, where she also asked attendees to mail in donations to her mayoral exploratory campaign.And the one-time teacher suggested the mayor could use a history lesson.“Didn’t we go through this in the ‘20s with liquor? Didn’t we learn our lessons around liquor?” Lewis said referring to Prohibition. “Are you kidding me? People are already doing it, so why not legalize it and tax it.”She also addressed the ongoing war of words during the audience Q&A, suggesting pot legalization would be less harmful than the revenue-generating casino that Emanuel has unsuccessfully sought in Springfield.Lewis has formed an exploratory committee, hired staff and loaned her campaign committee $40,000 of her own money. She is also circulating nominating petitions. But, she has not yet declared her candidacy for mayor.Earlier this week, Emanuel asked reluctant state lawmakers to soften Illinois’ war on drugs to let non-violent offenders off the hook and free police officers to focus on more serious crimes.
Emanuel wants the IllinoisGeneral Assembly to go beyond what he did in Chicago — with disappointing results —by decriminalizing possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana and reducing from a felony to a misdemeanor the penalty for possession one gram or less of any controlled substance.
Lewis welcomed the mayor’s plan, but argued that it did not go far enough. She said she would take it a step further — by legalizing and taxing marijuana.
“If you look at Colorado in the first quarter, they generated $80 million. We need to tax it. It’s an important revenue source,” she said.
Lewis withheld judgment on the mayor’s plan to make possession of one gram or less of any controlled substance a misdemeanor. She said the proposal “needs more research” even though the war on drugs “has been a complete disaster.”
Skeptical lawmakers have questioned the mayor’s motives for proposing the dramatic change in the way drug offenses are prosecuted.
Some viewed it as a political ploy tailor-made to resurrect his plan to impose mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes shot down by the Legislature’s Black Caucus.
Others characterized itas yet another maneuver to appease black voters and undercut the progressive base of Lewis and mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti —no different than Emanuel’s recent proposals to raise the minimum wage and champion immigration reform and affordable housing.
Wednesday’s attack was significant in that it marked the first time that Emanuel has publicly engaged Lewis or rejected one of her ideas.
If she enters the race, Emanuel is obviously preparing to use his $8.3 million-and-counting campaign war chest to paint both Fioretti and Lewis as never having met a tax they don’t like.
Both want to rein in tax-increment-financing and impose a financial transaction tax on LaSalle Street exchanges. Lewis wants to legalize and tax marijuana. Fioretti favors a one-percent commuter tax on more than 620,000 suburbanites who work in Chicago.
Contributing: Brian Slodysko