SPRINGFIELD — When it comes to pro-pot policies, Gov. Bruce Rauner is earning a passing grade, if not one that would be proudly displayed on the refrigerator.
In its first-ever gubernatorial scorecard, the National Organization for the Reform Marijuana Laws, or NORML, gave Rauner a B-minus, putting him ahead of his fellow Republican governors in neighboring Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa and on par with Democrat Jay Nixon of Missouri and Republican Matt Bevin of Kentucky.
Only two governors, Oregon’s Kate Brown and Vermont’s Peter Shumlin, both Democrats, received an A. The highest grade was only awarded to governors who have publicly supported legalization for recreational use.
NORML graded Rauner favorably based on his signing of two pieces of pro-marijuana legislation: a law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug and another extending the state’s medical marijuana pilot program until 2020. Rauner signed both bills this summer after vetoing previous versions last year.
The governor’s office declined to comment on the grade.
Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois chapter of NORML, said that while the state organization wasn’t consulted in producing the scorecard, “we see those pieces of legislation as steps in the right direction.”
Like the national organization, the Illinois chapter of NORML continues to advocate for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use by adults.
Given Rauner’s emphasis on improving the state’s business climate and reducing regulations, it would make sense for him to support legalizing marijuana, said Linn, who also serves as general manager of Champaign medical marijuana dispensary Phoenix Botanical.
Doing so would create jobs, attract investment and bring in additional revenue for the state, he said, adding, “It seems to be solving a lot of problem that the governor has been working toward since he was elected.”
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and opponents of legalization raise concerns about the possible social costs.
Voters in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C., have already approved legalization referendums, and the issue will be on the ballot Tuesday in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada.
So far, no state legislature has approved recreational use of marijuana outside of a ballot initiative, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That’s what would have to happen in Illinois, where voters have virtually no ability to legislate at the ballot box.
State Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, sponsored a legalization measure last year, but it went nowhere. With Dunkin wrapping up his tenure following a defeat in the March Democratic primary, NORML is looking for a new sponsor, Linn said.
State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, sponsored the bill that created Illinois’ medical marijuana program, which was set to expire at the end of next year, and the extension that Rauner signed this summer.
Lang said he’s not backing legalization for recreational use at this time.
“It may be in the future of Illinois that we legalize the sale of cannabis, but that is not on my radar screen at the moment,” Lang said. “I want to make sure the medical program works the way I anticipated, that it includes as many of our sickest people as possible.”
While he said Rauner deserves credit for agreeing to extend the medical marijuana program, Lang also noted that the administration has routinely ignored an advisory board’s evidence-based recommendations for expanding the program to cover additional conditions.
As part of the compromise with the Rauner administration, the board was reconstituted and will no longer make recommendations that have to be approved or denied by the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. The director will make those decisions in consultation with department staff.