SPRINGFIELD — Marijuana "bars" would be prohibited, and teenagers caught driving under the influence of marijuana would lose their licenses, a Springfield audience was told Monday night by lawmakers crafting a bill to allow recreational use of cannabis in Illinois.
Hearing those details pleased state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, whose town hall-style meeting on the issue attracted close to 100 people at Lincoln Library.
Manar said he hasn't taken a stand on a potential bill but said he was glad to provide a forum in which citizens could ask questions about the concept of marijuana legalization for adults to two fellow legislators leading the debate in the Illinois General Assembly.
State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, told the audience, "We have a huge opportunity in Illinois to do this right and carefully."
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said she wants to use the legislation to make it harder for children and adolescents to use cannabis.
She said the legislation also would expunge the records of citizens whose careers and futures have been harmed by marijuana convictions for low-level possession and dealing.
In addition to building upon the regulatory structure in the state's medical-marijuana program, Cassidy said the estimated $350 million to $750 million in taxes raised annually by a recreational-marijuana program would provide needed funding for community development of impoverished neighborhoods.
"If we don't address the social-justice issues of this, if we don't address the collateral consequences of the 'war on drugs,' we will have failed," Cassidy said.
Steans and Cassidy said they will introduce a formal bill soon and hope to have bipartisan support in the Democratic-controlled legislature, as well as support from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat who campaigned on a promise to back recreational use of marijuana for people 21 and older.
The bill, Steans and Cassidy said, would allow Illinoisans 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 30 grams, or about 1 ounce, of marijuana. Nonresidents would be able to buy and possess half that amount. Use of the drug in public wouldn't be allowed.
Adults would be able to grow up to five marijuana plants in each household. And municipalities, employers and landlords would be able to prohibit possession and use, the lawmakers said.
They said an estimated 800,000 people in Illinois buy marijuana regularly but only about 42,000 of them are in the state's medical-marijuana program.
Steans said public opinion polls show that two-thirds of Illinoisans support legalization of recreational cannabis if the substance is taxed and regulated like alcohol.
The Springfield town hall was the sixth such public event on the topic. When Steans and Cassidy have spoken at other town halls, a show of hands has revealed "the predominant view is of support," Steans said.
A show of hands wasn't requested at Monday night's meeting, even though The State Journal-Register asked that Manar poll the audience.
Manar said he forgot to do so during the meeting, but he said calls to his offices have been running 4-to-1 in favor of legalization.
Questions submitted by audience members indicated they wondered whether legalization will lead to more impaired driving, more crashes, more use by children and adolescents, and more use in general.
The questions also indicated people wonder how much municipalities and minorities will benefit from the economic opportunities if more marijuana dispensaries -- as well as new classifications such as transporters and processors -- are allowed through the legislation.
Cassidy dismissed claims that legalization leads to more crashes or impaired driving.
"There aren't definitive studies on this," she said, though Steans added that improvements are needed to make it easier and quicker for police to conduct roadside checks for marijuana-impaired driving.
Cassidy and Steans also contended legalization doesn't lead to more underage use. They said marijuana can have definite negative effects on the developing brain.
But Steans said: "People are using cannabis right now. Legalization won't change that."
Cassidy and Steans said legalization will provide money for more anti-marijuana-use campaigns in schools. And they said current law doesn't call for teens caught using marijuana behind the wheel to lose their licenses.
Steans said she wants the awarding of recreational-use dispensary licenses to be more transparent than the medical-marijuana program when it comes to who owns the companies that want licenses. And she said the legislation will give women and ethnic minorities a better chance of winning licenses.
Cassidy said the taxing structure still needs to be worked out in the bill so recreational marijuana isn't overtaxed to the point that the black market continues to flourish.
Audience member Jim Dixon, 71, a retired state worker from Springfield, said he supports legalization.
"I don't see it as any different than alcohol," he said. "It's a person's choice."
Roger Kanerva, 73, of Springfield, a state retiree, said he opposes legalization because he believes it would send a message that marijuana is harmless.
"I think it's bound to make driving more hazardous," he said.
Springfield resident Teresa Haley, 53, statewide and local president of the NAACP said her organization opposes cannabis legalization in Illinois.
She said the legislation wouldn't do enough to help blacks economically or through the criminal-justice system and would lead to more addiction to the drug, which remains illegal under federal law.
"It's just a way to make more money off the backs of poor people," Haley said.