EDITORIAL: Before the Good Ship Cannabis sets sail, stop up every possible leak

SHARE EDITORIAL: Before the Good Ship Cannabis sets sail, stop up every possible leak

Marijuana grown at the Cresco Labs in Joliet. | Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Over the weekend, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the details of a plan to allow legal pot in Illinois by the start of next year.

Our view has been that Illinois should hold off on legalizing recreational pot until we learn more from the experiences of other states that already have legalized it. We are concerned in particular that not enough is known about the dangers of driving while stoned or the effects of marijuana on brain development in young people.

But we seem to be losing that argument. The Good Ship Cannabis looks like it’s about to set sail in Springfield, pushed forward by two strong winds.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the state Legislature want that tax revenue, and social justice advocates are tired of seeing young people get saddled with criminal records for pot-related crimes that are not even crimes in several other states.

Fortunately, Illinois is moving toward marijuana legalization by legislation, not by referendum — as other states have done — allowing for more maneuvering to get this right. Or as right as possible.

We would hope the final legislation includes the following features:

• The criminal records of people with marijuana convictions should be expunged. As now written, the bill would allow the expungement of misdemeanor and Class 4 felony marijuana convictions. Once pot is legal, to do otherwise would be absurd. Yes, in many cases the marijuana charges were part of plea bargains that excluded more serious offenses, as some Republicans have pointed out, but so be it. It would be a transparent injustice not to expunge convictions for crimes that are no longer crimes.

• Make darned sure the recreational pot industry includes plenty of opportunity for minority entrepreneurs. A basic message implicit in the recent elections of Gov. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot is that everything we do in our state and city to grow the local economy should be done in a way that is more inclusive, opening doors for all. As provided in the draft bill, 25 percent of the new revenue would go to communities that have been disproportionately harmed by illegal drugs, and another 20 percent would fund mental health and substance-abuse treatment.


• Sun-Times coverage of the marijuana industry in Illinois

• Ensure that recreational cannabis is priced competitively, so that it can fully compete with — and displace — the black market in pot. Part of the mission in legalization must be to cut into the business of deadly drug dealers and cartels. Fees, licenses and taxes can’t be set so high that the black market continues to flourish. Though California legalized recreational pot more than a year ago, law enforcement reports that the illegal market continues to thrive — and in some areas has even expanded.

• The proposed bill allows for homegrown pot, up to five plants indoors in a concealed room. Our prediction is that this limit won’t be respected or enforced, which is fine. Once marijuana is legal and any consenting adult can take a toke, the cops are not about to go storming into houses to confiscate the homegrown stuff, not unless somebody’s working a small farm down in their basement. As a practical matter, most folks won’t grow their own pot for the same reason they don’t brew their own beer — it’s a lot of work and you’ll be able to get a better product at a fair price at the store. That is another reason, we should add, to keep the price of legal pot reasonably competitive.

Pritzker’s pot plan looks pretty good. The proposed bill, sure to be modified during negotiations, is designed to make the most of the benefits of legalization while acknowledging and addressing the drawbacks.

Illinois should hold off. That’s still our view.

But if this ship is going to sail, the state can at least stop up all the obvious leaks.


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