It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that just over 63 percent of voters in Cook County, Illinois ‘just said yes’ to legalizing adult use of cannabis, given that the majority of people across the nation feel the same way about legal cannabis, according to recent polls.
The advisory referendum, which residents voted on this Tuesday, March 20, is not legally binding. Lawmakers can only use the results rhetorically to illustrate the public support for a taxed and regulated system of legal cannabis for citizens over 21 years old.
The referendum asked Cook County voters if their state should legalize “the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
What’s a bit more interesting was the legislative vote that came before the public vote. On March 1, the Illinois state senate voted 37-13 to put the question on the November ballot.
This points to a key feature of the national momentum behind decriminalization and legalization of cannabis: the power of local municipalities to influence and impact policy and opinion.
In 1996, California voters approved a landmark law, the Compassionate Use Act, which is still widely called “Prop. 215” for the proposition number that appeared on the ballot. Unlike California, Illinois doesn’t have any process for creating a statewide initiative, so while this referendum won’t (directly) result in legalization, the fact the state senate is asking the question in the first place in a sate that already has legal medical cannabis hints at a policy trajectory familiar to residents of states like California that have already legalized adult use.
In Colorado, voters also set the gears of legalization in motion in 2000, with the passage of Amendment 20, which legalized medicinal cannabis. As in California, this ultimately led to the passage of full adult-use legalization, which has become an economic powerhouse for the state — particularly on the local level, where the impacts are more pronounced.
But the power of local government in legalizing adult-use cannabis cuts both ways, presenting both opportunities for advancement of progressive policies on safe access and obstacles to legalization efforts.
For examples of both, you don’t need to look any further than California, an undeniable cultural and policy leader when it comes to cannabis.
On one hand, California has cities like Oakland, which created a regulatory framework for cannabis commerce before the state had even started, and Berkeley, which took direct action to counteract financial obstacles to cannabusiness by slashing its cannabis tax rate.
But, on the other hand, it’s much easier to find county and city governments in California that are lukewarm on or outright hostile towards the state’s burgeoning legal adult use industry. In fact, according to reporting by the Orange County Register, even though Prop 64 passed by a sizable margin, most of California is not on board with legalization from a geographical standpoint.
From the Orange County Register:
Though cities are still working on some rules, a slight majority have banned outdoor marijuana gardens, while dozens more require residents to get home-grow permits, according to a new database of marijuana ordinances compiled by Southern California News Group and Bay Area News Group. Our searchable database — which to date includes cities in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties along with much of the Bay Area and Santa Cruz County — shows that so far most cities are shutting out the marijuana industry altogether.
However, this is an early response to a regulatory framework still in rough formative stages. In other states like Colorado, which has already been operating its legal adult use system for several years, things have stabilized substantially. Ultimately, California only has legal cannabis in the first place because of the will of the people.
And now, in Illinois — at least in Cook County — we see the will of the people signaling another state that could soon join the growing list of states that have decriminalized or legalized adult use cannabis. It may be early in that process, but as we’ve seen before, once the people decide on safe access they won’t be denied for long.
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