Illinois lawmakers move ahead with advisory referendum on recreational marijuana

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CHICAGO (Illinois News Network) — A Chicago Democrat wants to know – in theory – if Illinois voters want to get high.

It would only be an advisory question, but state Sen. Bill Cunningham’s legislation would have voters answer if they would “support the legalization of possession and use of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years of age, subject to regulation and taxation that is similar to the regulation and taxation of tobacco and alcohol.”

Eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Cunningham says ballot questions are how other states have gotten the ball rolling.

“In all but one of those entities, it was done by ballot initiative,” he said. “I think it’s appropriate that while we have a debate going on in this building right now and a series of hearings going on throughout the state, that we bring the public into the debate.”

Vermont is the only state to legalize recreational marijuana use via the legislature.

Ralph Rivera with the Illinois Family Institute says the language is biased in support of legalization.

“This language is unfair and biased. I think a better way to take this to the voters would be to take that first part,” he said. “‘Do you support the legalization and use of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years of age?’ period.”

The referendum would be advisory, as Illinois traditionally uses binding referenda to change the state Constitution. Chicagoans will answer a similar question on their ballots on March 20.

Previous statewide polls have shown support for legalization of recreational marijuana use. A pollconducted by Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute reported 66 percent supported decriminalizing recreational marijuana.