In addition to the presidency, there was another issue some citizens got the chance to vote on Nov. 6: marijuana legalization.
Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize the sale and possession of cannabis for recreational use since the drug became an illegal substance in 1937. While the measure passed in two states, legal experts said it’s not likely Illinois will legalize marijuana anytime soon.
“Whether they are going to allow the states to do this, or if they’re going to come in and shut them down will be interesting (to) people,” said Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois NORML state chapter, an organization that looks to repeal marijuana laws.
He said he thinks the legalization is good because the federal government will now take it as a serious issue, and it could lead to the national legalization of the drug.
Illinois might legalize the drug, Linn said, but probably not for recreational purposes.
“I think for medicinal purposes, I think that’s got a better chance than recreational purposes at this point,” he said. “I think there’s a chance that you could see medicinal get through by the end of this year.”
Though representatives from organizations such as NORML said they see the legalization as a positive move, others aren’t as enthused.
Lana Beck, director of communications at the Drug Free America Foundation, said her organization is working harder to inform the public about marijuana because of the legalization.
“There is no question that the advocates who pushed for marijuana legalization during this election cycle will push for legalization in other states and even at the national level,” she said. “We also expect that some of these advocates will eventually push for the legalization of other addictive drugs.”
Beck said though the drug was legalized, she thinks history has shown marijuana will probably be re-criminalized as it was in Alaska, where voters overturned a 16-year marijuana decriminalization in 1991.
She said there are many reasons why there has been a movement to legalize marijuana.
“Some people want to legalize marijuana so they can get high without worry of problems with the law,” she said. “Some want it legalized because they believe incorrectly it is medicine, and some just don’t want the government telling them what they can and cannot do. But there are some who are positioned to make a lot of money off the addictions and sufferings of the users, like the tobacco companies have done with tobacco products.”
The new Colorado law states adults 21 and older can possess up to an ounce of marijuana, or six marijuana plants, for personal use.
Washington State’s new law will legalize and regulate the production, possession and distribution of marijuana for residents 21 and older.
Even though Washington and Colorado’s state laws allow marijuana use, federal law overrules state laws.
Under federal law, marijuana is treated like every other controlled substance such as cocaine and heroin, according to information provided by Americans for Safe Access, a group that supports marijuana legalization for medicinal use and research. The federal government places controlled substances in groups called schedules that depend on the drug’s potential for abuse and medicinal value. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means the federal government classifies marijuana as highly addictive and as having no medical value.
At this point, the federal government still treats marijuana as schedule I, according to a press statement from the Drug Enforcement Administration released after the legalization.
“In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance,” the press release stated. “The Department of Justice is reviewing the ballot initiatives. and we have no additional comment at this time.”
Because federal law overrules state law, federal officials can prosecute individuals in these states the same way they can in other states, said Brian Roberts, a Carbondale-based lawyer. He said he thinks the federal government will take drastic actions against everyone in these states.
“I don’t think the federal government is going to go in and start arresting people that have small amounts of marijuana and charging them with federal crimes,” Roberts said. “But what I would see is the major distributors being subject to being charged under federal law.”
He said the federal government might take an indirect approach of penalizing the states that legalize marijuana.
“What I expect to happen is that the federal government will start punishing (Washington and Colorado) by taking away funding … for not following federal law,” he said.
SIU students, however, have differed opinions about the drug’s legalization and the state’s legalization prospects.
“I think a few states will probably follow, but I don’t think it will end up with the entire nation being accepting of marijuana,” said Kirsten Edwards, a junior from Petersburg studying biomedical sciences.
Edwards said she doesn’t think the drug will become legal in Illinois anytime soon.
“I think Illinois is too much of a conservative state,” she said. “I think they are too set in the old ways and that it’s such a bad idea … It’ll probably be one of the later states to pick it up if at all.”
Though she thinks national legalization will probably not happen, Edwards said she is fine with the idea of states legalizing the drug.
“I kind of feel you should legalize it,” she said. “I just feel like there are so many people who get criminalized for it, and it’s not that big of a deal. It’s not (as) harmful as alcohol.”
Edwards also said she thinks legalizing marijuana is a good way for states to tax the product and create revenue from it.
Jason Silver, a senior from Murphysboro studying automotive technology, said he thinks Colorado and Washington’s marijuana legalization is a step toward national legalization, but he is indifferent toward the subject. Silver also said he thinks Illinois would probably not legalize the drug.
“Illinois is a funky state,” he said. “They don’t like reforming. They just don’t.”
Although marijuana is criminalized in Illinois, the city of Carbondale has taken a more lenient stance on the drug.
The city approved an ordinance in 2004 that allows the city to fine offenders in possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana or paraphernalia instead of sending the case to the State’s Attorney’s Office or the county court system, Linn said. Carbondale is one of several cities in the state that has passed legislation regarding marijuana.
Todd Sigler, director of the SIU Department of Public Safety, said the ordinance hasn’t caused much change in DPS operations.
“It’s not really had a significant impact,” he said. “We look at each case on a case-by-case basis … If we feel that an arrest is warranted, and a city citation is the most appropriate, then we have no difficulty using that ordinance. If we feel a state charge is more appropriate, then that’s the one the officers are free to use as well.”
He said DPS also uses Student Rights and Responsibilities to resolve some of the cases.
Sigler said he is unsure if Illinois marijuana legalization would affect his job because he does not have enough information from other states that have legalized it. He said DPS would contact legal experts and figure out whether to follow state or federal law if Illinois legalized marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use.