Grass is "Green" in Illinois
The Green Party's candidate for Illinois Governor, Rich Whitney, has proposed a way to reduce crime, cut state spending and raise hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue.
The Carbondale attorney, in his second run for the state's highest office, repeated his idea at the stodgy Chicago Civic Federation forum. And once again, the suits stared at the bearded Whitney as though the candidate had been smoking something.
"Prohibition was a disaster when we tried it with alcohol" writes Whitney on his campaign website. "Criminalizing it only fueled organized crime and violence".
He continues: "The same is true of our criminalization of marijuana, which also wastes a tremendous amount of criminal justice resources apprehending, prosecuting and punishing people for using a benign and in some respects beneficial natural plant".
The 54 year old Whitney is a non-smoker who has worked on the legal front lines in the battle to regulate tobacco. In 2006, he was the Green's first candidate for governor to appear on the statewide ballot and won a surprising 10.5% of the popular vote.
He told reporters after his Civic Federation appearance that taxes on the legalized sale of pot would raise at least $300 million a year for state government and probably much more.
But the savings, he theorizes, would be several times that much when you consider the effect of decriminalization on overcrowded courts and the extraordinarily expensive Illinois Department of Corrections.
"During a time of budgetary and economic hardship, it is foolish to deprive ourselves of a potential source of revenue by driving it underground".
And Whitney adds, "The gains from legalizing marijuana can be multiplied if we also legalize its close botanical cousin, hemp". (You can't get high smoking hemp but cash crops of the durable weed could be processed for use in manufacturing everything from rope to clothing)
Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and Republican nominee Senator Bill Brady both oppose decriminalization and quickly dismissed Whitney's proposal during their post-forum news conferences. Both major party candidates consider pot "dangerous" and cite the social risks of legalizing it.
Its interesting that despite the "social risks" involved in slot machines and casinos, both Quinn and Brady have supported legalized gaming at several points during their careers.
Whitney, on the other hand, is an outspoken opponent of gambling. He calls it "a hidden tax on the poor, ignorant and desperate" and "not such a bargain after all the social costs are factored in.”
The Green candidate has vowed to lead efforts to rollback legalized gambling in Illinois if elected.
So that's how the Green, Democratic and Republican candidates for Governor answer the "burning question" of whether marijuana should be legalized in Illinois.
By the way, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) ranks "weed" as the fourth largest cash crop in Illinois behind corn, soybeans and hay but ahead of wheat, apples, oats, potatoes and peaches.
If you believe NORML, millions of Illinoisans have either grown, bought or used pot despite the fact its against the law...
...making this part of the gubernatorial debate more than just smoke.