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Senate advances Cunningham measure on marijuana referendum

cunningham 022817SPRINGFIELD – Illinois voters may get the chance to let their voices be heard on the subject of the legalization of cannabis under legislation passed out of committee in Springfield this week. The legislation, Senate Bill 2275, would place an advisory question on the 2018 ballot asking Illinois voters if they are in favor of marijuana legalization.

State Senator Bill Cunningham, the sponsor of the measure, says the advisory question will help legislators gauge the public’s opinion on the subject. Most states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana have done so through ballot initiatives.


“Marijuana legalization is a complicated and controversial topic that is currently being debated throughout Illinois,” Cunningham said. “A referendum could serve an important role in that discussion by allowing legislators to fully understand the public’s opinion of the idea.”

The proposed referendum would ask voters to vote “yes” or “no” on this question: "Do you support the legalization of possession and use of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years of age, subject to regulation and taxation that is similar to the regulation and taxation of tobacco and alcohol?"

A series of legislative hearings on marijuana legalization have been held recently by State Senator Heather Steans and State Representative Kelly Cassidy. Testimony has been provide on the effects legalization might have on public health and the criminal justice system, as well as on the possibility of new revenue being generated through taxing the sale of marijuana.

“One of the lessons we learned from the prohibition of alcohol nearly a century ago is that it is nearly impossible to enforce a law if a majority of citizens do not support it,” Cunningham said. “A long public debate on legalizing marijuana — like the one that is occurring now —followed by a ballot referendum to determine the public’s point-of-view, is a sensible course of action for the legislature to follow on this topic.”

Senator Bill Cunningham


18th Legislative District

Years served: 2013 - Present

Committee assignments: Agriculture; Appropriations II; Gaming; Higher Education (Vice Chairperson); Labor; Telecommunications and Information Technology (Chairperson); Transportation.

Biography: Served in the House from 2011-13; full-time state legislator and lifelong resident of the southwest Chicago area; born July 21, 1967; graduate of Saint Barnabas Grammar School (1981), Mount Carmel High School (1985) and the University of Illinois Chicago (1990); former advisor to Cook CountySheriff Mike Sheahan and former chief of staff to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; youth soccer coach; parent representative on the Sutherland Local School Council; lives in Beverly with wife, Juliana, and two daughters, Madeline and Olivia.