Illinois is halfway to making history on the drug scene — legalization of marijuana.
Throwing caution to the wind, members of the state Senate voted Wednesday to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. With the House now scheduled to take up the matter — and expected to approve it — Illinois could soon become the 10th state to give its legal OK to the drug.
Waiting in the background is Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has made no secret of his eagerness to sign the measure into new law that will become effective Jan. 1.
"Illinois is poised to become the first state in the nation that puts equity and criminal justice reform at the heart of its approach to legalizing cannabis," said Pritzker, who described himself as "grateful for the Senate's action.
That rhetoric, however, is naive, at best, and misleading at best.
What Pritzker describes as an unadulterated social good will sow considerable misery among this state's poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
It also lays the groundwork for an expansion of intoxicated driving that will take a grim toll on our roads and highways.
People, of course, rightly complain that consuming alcoholic beverages is no better. But alcohol is a reality that this country has tried — and failed — to address. Pritzker now intends to double down on the mortal threat posed by these twin, soon-to-be-legal intoxicants.
How ironic it is that Pritzker, who repeatedly cited the serious difficulties posed by his mother's alcoholism, now celebrates dropping this time bomb into the lives of the people of Illinois.
Proponents of this legislation defend it on numerous grounds, its revenue-generating ability, marijuana's harmlessness, its potential for expunging past convictions and its use as an expression of free choice.
"Prohibition simply does not work," said Democratic state Sen. Heather Steans, one of the chief backers of the bill.
If she's making a reference to the days of "reefer madness," Steans is correct. Marijuana is not — and never was — the mortal threat many people perceived it to be decades ago. Illinois law decriminalizes marijuana. It's a low-priority, fine-only offense. No one goes to jail for smoking dope, even though a lot of people smoke dope and, as a result, get themselves into trouble.
The law currently imposes a disincentive to engage in an unhealthy, unproductive and sometimes unsafe activity. It sets a marker for healthy social conduct, and that's what the law should encourage.
Under the new law, it will become a big corporate business. Those who suspected this legislation is far more about money than social justice were right all along.
Who's going to operate the marijuana-selling businesses, and in whose neighborhoods are those businesses going to be located? Past practice indicates marijuana dispensaries will, like liquor stores, proliferate in the marginal neighborhoods that need them least. That, apparently, is just too bad.
During the course of the legislative debate, proponents repeatedly congratulated themselves on how well conceived and written the legislation is. State Sen. Jason Barickman, who voted in favor, naively hailed the bill's "safeguards to protect" minors. They will work about as well as the safeguards that seek to prevent those under 21 from consuming alcohol. Legal marijuana will be everywhere, easily available to consumers of all ages, as will illegal marijuana sold by those undercutting the heavily taxed legal prices.
One of the most laughable aspects of the House debate was the frequency with which legislators shook a disapproving finger at marijuana while, simultaneously, giving their blessing to it.
"I will continue to tell my kids that they should not smoke tobacco, they should not smoke cannabis and that is my job as a responsible parent," said one.
What about the kids who have absent, indifferent parents? Who's going to advise them on healthy life choices? What about the kids who have families fractured by poverty, mental health and drug problems?
People — both children and adults — need reasonable societal limits to help them stay in their lanes and not crash over the guardrails. Moving from decriminalization to legalization obliterates traffic lanes, removes guardrails and creates a demolition derby atmosphere that will bear no resemblance to the calm and idyllic results its proponents are foisting on the public.