The law allowing recreational marijuana in Illinois takes effect next year, and people are trying to get ready. State Rep. Maurice West (D-Rockford) says he is holding conversations about implementing it with the mayor of Rockford, the Winnebago County State's Attorney, and others in his 67th District. Guy Stephens spoke with West about the law, and began by asking why he voted for it.
MW: Taxing it brings millions more dollars to our state that we plan to divvy up. For example, we have 20% going to mental health, we have a percentage going into unpaid bills. So yeah, the taxation, the revenue that comes with it is good. The regulation side of it? We all have heard of stories, and in my case, I've had personal stories with friends and family members who may have smoked something that was not what they thought it was. I've seen that happen throughout the community growing up in high school here in Rockford. People smoke something that they thought was something, but it wasn't. We regulate it, we know that it's pure. So yeah, those two things are great, they will be beneficial. But I need to stand up for the black and brown people who might be in my district who are adversely affected by what we call the "war on drugs." So that's the biggest part.
GS: Explain that a little further.
MW: If you go into our prison systems, or our jail systems, and divvy up all the people who are in there because of marijuana possession, it will be primarily black people, brown people, minority communities, or low income white communities who will be in jail for this. And so with this, the number I heard was almost 800,000 people will see their record expunged. And now also with this piece of legislation, now we're trying to find ways to help you to get back into society.
GS: So much is still up in the air, still to kind of be ironed out for the implementation.
GS: But what are your hopes for the law?
MW: My hope is that I see a lot more people who are happy that they have that conviction off the record. That more people are able to go and find a job or get a job because they don't have that record from when they were 17 or when they were in their 20s or whenever. People are able to provide for their family. My hope, also, is that 50 years from now, when we look at it, it's still regulated -- that it's not out of control, that it's not a dispensary on every corner. In the 1930s we ended Prohibition. I'm assuming that they wanted to regulate it and tax it as well. But now we have a liquor store in every corner -- just about, in some areas. And I don't want to be 30-40 years from now, wishing that I did not vote for this bill.
GS: Is it really just making sure that the regulations adhere to that thought?
MW: Within the bill, they call it "R-3," but it stands for Recovery, Reinvest and Renew. So one thing that we will be doing is a study a year from now, two years from now, to see how things are progressing. Are we expunging? Yes. But are they getting jobs? No? Okay, well, what are we doing wrong? What do we need to fix? Are we expunging? No, we're not. Are people getting jobs? No. Then we squash the whole thing. We stop the whole thing and start over. So another thing that gave me peace of mind was this is not a piece of legislation that we vote for at the end of May, and we're done with now. This is something that we will keep our eyes on making sure that the Recovery, the Reinvest and the Renew is effective throughout the state. And making sure that it's not going overboard, is not turning into a liquor store on every corner. So every legislator who voted for this bill, they have a vested interest in making sure that this works. And that means trailer bills will come when we see something that's not really working.