Marijuana Moms: Meet The Four Women Who Crafted Illinois' Cannabis Proposal

May 21, 2019
Originally published on May 20, 2019 2:30 pm

Earlier in May when language for Illinois' recreational cannabis proposal was unveiled, it was Gov. J.B. Pritzker who stole the headlines, receiving much of the credit. While it's his signature that will ultimately appear on any proposal passed by the legislature, it was four female lawmakers who chose to embark on the difficult path to legalization years ago. 

State Sens. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) as well as state Reps. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) and Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria) said this yearslong and statewide effort has taught them a lot, but it mostly reinforced their friendship with each other.  

"Obviously when things are, like, intense... around the Capitol, you know who your safe places are," said Hutchinson. 

All four women, who are also moms, had significant life events take place over the course of negotiations. Traveling the state working on a contentious issue while also tending to their families, the women said they couldn't have done it without one another. 

Gordon-Booth's young daughter suffered from medical complications and required a stay at Lurie's Children's Hospital in Chicago. Steans opened her home to Gordon-Booth's family to ease the burden. She said that type of support is nothing new. 

"Toi is my daughter's godmother, she was in my wedding," said Gordon-Booth. "When my mother died, she drove through a snow storm to be there for me and my family. When my son was killed, they were there. When my brother died of cancer, one of the first people to show up on my doorstep from Springfield was Kelly. My daughter had some health problems last month ---" 

As Gordon-Booth continued explaining how grateful she was for the friendship, Cassidy interrupted her with "Squad on the job ---" in an effort to reinforce, that's just what these women do for one another. 

"This is not just a work relationship," said Gordon-Booth. "This is a real friendship and I gave you those examples, because that's not just your colleagues. Those are real friends."

Steans opened up about her oldest child coming out as gender non-conforming and chosing to go by the pronouns they/them. One of the more difficult times for their family was in the middle of a tour she and Cassidy were hosting across the state to discuss the recreational cannabis proposal and get feedback from residents.

"They had a longterm girlfriend," said Steans. "They thought that they were going to stay together for life."

The night before one of the townhalls, Steans said her child's relationship ended. Steans participated in the townhall, but went straight to New York where her child lives. This caused her to miss the next scheduled townhall, but Cassidy completed the event on her own allowing Steans to be with her family. 

"That's what you do," said Steans. "It really does get really challenging, but we all had to do that. We all had our issues. We all had something really significant happen with our kids throughout the course of this." 

Cassidy is recently married, but said she spent most of her time as a lawmaker, traveling frequently from Chicago to Springfield, as a single mother. 

"My son..." Cassidy started,  "... lives in our basement." Steans completed.

"This is what family does for each other," said Cassidy. "The first time we did a big caucus briefing, Jehan was sitting next to me and I was getting texts from my son, my oldest. We were in a bad spot, you know, he's a teenage boy and things weren't going well. She was sensing it. So, she just stayed here, just holding my hand." 

At the end of the hours-long briefing, Cassidy said Gordon-Booth asked her what was wrong. All Cassidy had to say was "it's Josh" and her friend hugged and prayed over her. 

"She didn't see my phone, she didn't see what was going on," said Cassidy. "She just felt me." 

"It was mommy stuff too," Gordon-Booth added. "You could feel it." 

Hutchinson had some medical problems of her own, requiring a stay in the hospital. She said Steans was the first friend with magazines and other items to comfort her. And, they say, this bond works it's way into the Capitol too. 

"I can walk on the floor and see in a matter of about 35 seconds if Heather's stressed," said Hutchinson. 

"We totally do that to each other," said Cassidy of her and Gordon-Booth. "Our seats are just a couple seats apart." 

It's easy to assume the statehouse is a contentious environment, and to be fair, sometimes it is. But the women say legislators do build bonds with one another, even across the aisle. 

"I think the women's caucus tends to do it a little bit more," said Steans. "I would even say we have some of that with our Republican colleagues as well. I do think it's a little atypical how deep these relationships have come." 

And as for Gov. Pritzker getting all the credit, the women seemed to laugh it off and didn't really mind. 

"We spend hours on the bills that we carry... and whatever governor it is that signs the bill, they talk about it as the governor's bill. It happens all the time."

But, Hutchinson who has also served under Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, says so far with Pritzker, it's different: "What's cool is that if you talk to Gov. Pritzker, he does mention us." 

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