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State senator draws high numbers for weed symposium

There+weren%E2%80%99t+enough+seats+in+Levan+100+for+everyone+who+came+to+discuss+marijuana+legalization.+%0A%28Benjamin+Conboy+%7C+The+DePaulia%29
There weren’t enough seats in Levan 100 for everyone who came to discuss marijuana legalization. 
(Benjamin Conboy | The DePaulia)

There weren’t enough seats in Levan 100 for everyone who came to discuss marijuana legalization. (Benjamin Conboy | The DePaulia)

There weren’t enough seats in Levan 100 for everyone who came to discuss marijuana legalization. (Benjamin Conboy | The DePaulia)

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Recreational marijuana legalization was center stage in the Levan Center during Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s (SSDP)  jam-packed symposium in which they hosted Heather Steans, one of the state senators who cosponsored the senate bill that would, if passed, legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois.

Joining Steans for the panel and Q&A session was Bret Bender of the Medical Marijuana Project and Stevie Valles of the non-partisan voter engagement group Chicago Votes.

On Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he would be rescinding the Obama-era “Cole Memo,” which was an executive instruction to federal law enforcement agencies to allow marijuana retailers and growers in states where it has been legalized to continue their business unencumbered. With the memo gone, federal agents are now free to raid dispensaries and arrest anyone selling marijuana, even if it is legal in their state.

Steans does not anticipate the Justice Department’s actions will cause any difficulties in the rollout of recreational weed in Illinois, if the time ever comes.

Steans pointed to the difficulty of passing recreational legalization legislatively, rather than through a public referendum, as states like California and Colorado have done.

“Every state has legalized marijuana by public referendum,” Steans said. “We are not a public referendum state, but we are trying to do it in a legislative way.”

“I know we are inching closer in legalizing it, and we want to prioritize this situation with young people across America,” Bender said. “We know we have the numbers and support.”

Senior Amy Hildebrand is an Illinois state policy intern for SSDP and the president of the group’s DePaul chapter. She has been active in the cannabis industry for a few years, so attracting these speakers was just a matter of.

I work directly with Senator Steans’ office for the cannabis legalization effort. Milking the connections I have, we were able to fill this room tonight.”

— Amy Hildebrand

One criticism of marijuana prohibition is the way it disproportionately affects black and Hispanic people. Steans said she has two lobbyists working with the black and Hispanic caucuses to make sure their interests are heard and represented in the bill.

“Our focus isn’t so much trying to convince people that marijuana should be legalized but showing them there are candidates who support marijuana,” Valles said.

Another tip that was mentioned is endorse the candidates who support legalizing marijuana.

“What you can do is making sure that the candidates get elected who support legalizing marijuana because that is what we are going to need,” Bender said.

Illinois already has a medical marijuana program that was implemented in 2013. But the program has a strict list of applicable conditions, and bureaucratic backlog means patients have to wait as much as four months for their medical cards to arrive.

“Like what state senator Steans said, it won’t affect the way we are doing this policy or the medical policy the major and all of our state attorneys have come out and said that they won’t back if we make enforcements later,” Hildebrand said. “Also, this legalization effort is going slowly for a reason to work out all the kinks and have all the discussions like we had today. It has not changed anything.”

Steans has already held three public forums on recreational legalization, and is holding another on Monday, Jan. 22 in the Bilandic Building at 160 N. LaSalle Street.

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State senator draws high numbers for weed symposium