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Gov. hopefuls cool to more marijuana legalization

Published: Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 12:58 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 4:00 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois may have a new medical marijuana law on the books, and two other states may have approved the drug's recreational use, but the candidates for Illinois governor this year don't support legalizing it outright in their state.

Their positions on whether Illinois should extend its four-year medical cannabis pilot project are not so clear-cut, however, according to the candidates' answers to a campaign questionnaire sent to them by The Associated Press. Most Republicans said it was too early to decide, but a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor who suffers from multiple sclerosis said it should continue, as did a Democratic challenger to Gov. Pat Quinn.

The question of further legalization could arise on the 2014 campaign trail as sick Illinois patients start getting access to marijuana. Political experts say medical marijuana hasn't been a strictly partisan issue and there are other signs that Illinois could be willing to address full legalization, including Chicago loosening its punishment for those caught with pot.

"This is going to be a one-step-at-a-time issue," said Alan Gitelson, a Loyola University political science professor.

Quinn, who's seeking re-election, signed a law in August legalizing the use of medical marijuana on a trial basis for severely ill people. State officials must issue regulations before anyone can sign up, though.

Quinn, who didn't respond to the candidate questionnaire, explained at the signing that he liked the law's tight regulations and was moved to support it by testimony from a sick veteran. When asked about the issue Friday, he said only that the rule-making process will take time.

"I have a whole team looking at our law," he told AP after an event in Chicago. "It's going to take a little bit of time."

Quinn's office said Friday that he doesn't support legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

All other candidates for governor and lieutenant governor told AP that legalized recreational use of marijuana shouldn't be allowed.

Bruce Rauner and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, both Republicans, simply wrote "No" when asked, "Should marijuana be legalized generally?"

Republican state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, who both voted against the medical marijuana legislation, explained themselves a little more. Dillard said he listens to law enforcement on the issue; a sheriff's association opposed the medical marijuana bill over concerns of motorists driving under the influence of marijuana.

Brady said the medical marijuana bill opens the door to legalization of recreational use.

"I am opposed to the general legalization of marijuana or any other controlled substances, which are currently subject to regulation and governance by the federal government," Brady said.

Rauner, a suburban venture capitalist, said he wouldn't push extending the four-year pilot program. But his candidate for lieutenant governor, Evelyn Sanguinetti, disagreed.

The Wheaton City Council member suffers from multiple sclerosis, an illness that she said she manages with daily medication.

"While marijuana does not provide a cure for those dealing with debilitating and terminal conditions, it has been known to provide relief to those dealing with the painful symptoms," Sanguinetti wrote in her questionnaire. "I'm okay with allowing them to continue to do so within the existing restrictions."

Rutherford said it's premature to consider an extension.

"We must remain cognizant of the fact that marijuana is illegal at the federal level, and this law was implemented over the objections of much of Illinois law enforcement," he said. "Illinois businesses will also be attempting to reconcile their drug policies with medical marijuana legalization."

Quinn's lone Democratic primary challenger, suburban Chicago activist Tio Hardiman, said he was also opposed to fully legalizing marijuana but approved of extending the pilot program.

In 2012, Chicago's City Council approved an ordinance allowing police to ticket people found with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting them. Roughly a year later, the new medical marijuana measure was signed into law. It says only patients with serious illnesses or diseases will be allowed to obtain medical marijuana. The bill lists dozens of illnesses, such as cancer, muscular dystrophy and lupus. The patients must have established relationships with a doctor and will be limited to 2.5 ounces every two weeks.

Currently, 20 states and Washington, D.C., allow medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington state recently approved recreational marijuana use, the first two to do so.

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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