Chicago Voters Embrace Cannabis Legalization in a Big Way

People visiting Chicago at dusk.

Voters in the Illinois county that includes Chicago have backed the recreational use of cannabis in a nonbinding referendum.

In an advisory vote, nearly two-thirds of Chicagoland voted in favor of legalization.

The question for Cook County voters asked if Illinois should legalize “the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older.”

With nearly all precincts counted, the “yes” vote carried the day, with 63.3% of ballots cast in favor of legalization. 36.7% of voters were against the idea.

Although the referendum is advisory only, the vote could help state lawmakers make their case in Springfield for the legalization of adult-use cannabis. Medical marijuana is already legal in Illinois.

Supporters of legalizing and taxing cannabis for adults contend it could boost revenue for state and local governments, as it has elsewhere. Opponents of legalization have raised questions about the social cost and subversion of federal laws.

Rauner Opposes It, Pritzker Supports

Earlier this month, the Illinois state senate voted to put a non-binding question regarding legalization on the statewide ballot in November. The question is unlikely to make it to the ballot, though, as it would require the signature of Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner has called the measure misguided and legalization a mistake.

Illinois law does not have any provisions for a statewide initiative. The state allows “advisory” measures that act as a kind of formal poll of the voters, but are not legally binding. Changing the state’s cannabis laws outside the legislative process would require a state constitutional amendment. Voters in Florida amended their state constitution to legalize medical marijuana in 2016, but so far no state has amended its constitution by statewide vote in order to legalize adult-use cannabis.

In Tuesday’s primary election, Rauner squeaked by his Republican challenger, Jeanne Ives, 52% to 48%. Meanwhile, billionaire entrepreneur J.B. Pritzker ran away from a crowded Democratic primary field, winning 45% of the vote. His nearest challenger garnered 26% of the vote. Pritzker is a strong supporter of adult-use cannabis legalization in Illinois, and the issue is expected to be one of many issues on which the two general election rivals disagree.

Illinois Senate Approves Marijuana Ballot Question