The Great Marijuana Debate

The Great Marijuana Debate

Experts discuss ramifications of  legalized pot

By Steve Metsch

Billed as “The Great Marijuana Debate,” a discussion by a panel of experts drew a standing room only crowd to the La Grange Village Hall.

Those in attendance were flooded with a steady flow of statistics and medical opinions which left some wondering what to make of efforts to legalize marijuana.

The goal of the debate, however, succeeded. And that was to get people talking about marijuana which, earlier in the day, was approved as an opiod alternative in legislation signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The panel was varied. It included politicians, doctors, counselors and clergy. Thom Serafin, founder and CEO of Serafin & Associates, Inc., was the moderator of the two-hour debate on Aug. 28.



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All agreed that the complex issue needs more review, although State Sen. Heather Steans (7thDistrict) has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana use for recreational purposes besides the currently medicinal usage.

An overflow crowd filled the La Grange Village Hall for the debate. Photo by Steve Metsch.

“My three kids thought it bizarre I’m sponsoring the legislation. I think it’s the right, sound public policy to be doing. Prohibition simply does not work,” Steans said.

State Rep. Jim Durkin, the Illinois House Minority Leader,said he “conditionally support the medical or compassionate use of marijuana .. to relieve individuals of chronic pain and stress.”

Durkin said much more research is needed before the state can consider legalization for recreational use.

Psychologist Aaron Weiner, director of addictions at Linden Oaks, is taking a more cautionary approach.

“We’re not talking about medical cannabis. We’re talking about creating a recreational market. There are lot of things going on right now that has not been researched. It really concerns me,” Weiner said.

“We already have decriminalization. Legalization and commercialization are two entirely different things. My biggest concern is creating a for-profit industry around this. As soon as you do that, things go off the rails,” Weiner said.

More supportive was the Rev. Al Sharp, executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy, who thinks “the War on Drugs is a war against African-Americans and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics.”

“Marijuana is the leverage to end the War on Drugs. Right now, the debate about marijuana – which I think will be over soon than we realize – freezes all other debate. You say you need more research, but you can’t get more research until it is legalized,” Sharp said.

A big challenge, panelists said, is how law enforcement officials will be able to determine is someone driving under the influence of marijuana. It’s not as easy as dealing with alcohol in the blood, Weiner said.

Chelsea Laliberte, executive director of Live4Lali, lost a brother, Alex, to a heroin overdose 10 years ago, said “humans are hard-wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain and have been using substances from the beginning ot feel better.”

“I want to learn from my colleagues and I want to learn from you,” she told the audience.

The sixth panel member, Will Jones, is a Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) Communications Outreach Associate. Jones lives in Washington, D.C., where, he said, “a liquor store is the closest store to my house in any direction.”

Convenience store windows are covered with ads for alcohol and tobacco products. “For people like myself who live in such communities, regulating marijuana like alcohol does not sound like a great idea,” Jones said.

The panel covered much ground in two hours. In the end, no concrete stance was agreed on. Some thought more research is needed. Not Sharp: “We’ve had that chance and research has been blocked.”

Weiner said “we have a lot of research, but the idea that we are somehow a post-scientific society, where the science doesn’t matter, is a dangerout precedent.”

He noted “we don’t have a 0.08 level for marijuana,” comparing it to the BAC or blood alcohol content that determines drunken driving.

Becky Russow, of La Grange Park, said that she approves of legalization.

“I do feel the War on Drugs was a war on the black and brown communities, so I do like the legalization of it, and the decriminalization. It needs to be legalized, regulated and taxed, but I don’t want to see it on (TV) commercials,” Russow said.

A former elementary school principal, Russow “picked up a lot of information tonight, so I’m going to do some research on it.” But she noted she doesn’t like pain pills she was prescribed for recent knee surgery. “I’d love to have something else that’s less additive.”

There was great discussion about whether marijuana can be addictive and how long it stays in the bloodstream.

With that in mind, several panel members touched on how police would be able to test for marijuana in a person’s blood, as they now can do for alcohol.

Rep. Jim Durkin, the Illinois House Minority Leader, is a former prosecutor for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. He said that a common misconception is that someone goes to prison for simple marijuana possession. That, he said, is not likely.

Jim Rosenberger, of La Grange, considered the debate “overall was very informative.”

“It’s such a complicated topic. There’s so many issues brought up. They kept talking about commercialization and I think, ultimately, that’s what’s going to drive (the legalization),” Rosenberger said.

He added that “it’s all about the money,” noting that marijuana will be legal in Canada in October.

“One of my old college buddies, who’s grown up to be an investor, told me to look at marijuana stocks. So, I bought $10,000 worth of a Canadian firm in July and it doubled in two weeks,” Rosenberger added.

While it’s commonly thought legalization of marijuana may help the state through taxes, Durkin said taxing it heavily would in no way solve Illinois’ budget woes.

Serafin, who deftly handled a dozen or so questions submitted by audience members, said there were twice as many turned in.

The League of Women’s Voters in the La Grange Area and the Coalition for a Drug Free Lyons Township sponsored the event.

Desplaines Valley News 


Steve Metsch

Steve Metsch is an award winning veteran reporter who previously worked for the Daily Southtown Newspapers, Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. Metsch is a writer and editor at the Southwest News Newspaper group based in suburban Chicago, and a freelance writer for a financial newsletter, a health magazine and the Naperville Sun.
Email Steve Metsch at
Steve Metsch

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4 comments on “The Great Marijuana Debate
  1. Brian Kelly says:

    Marijuana consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and even glorified as an All-American pastime, alcohol.

    Plain and simple!

    Legalize Nationwide!

    It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national marijuana policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-marijuana, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple.

    Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

    • Brian Kelly says:

      The “War on Marijuana” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

      Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Marijuana”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It’s a no brainer.

      The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

      Marijuana is much safer to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

      Let’s end this hypocrisy now!

      The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less marijuana “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

      Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

      Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

      • Brian Kelly says:

        In the prohibitionist’s world, anybody who consumes the slightest amount of marijuana responsibly in the privacy of their own homes are “stoners” and “dopers” that need to be incarcerated in order to to protect society.

        In their world, any marijuana use equates to marijuana abuse, and it is their God given duty to worry about “saving us all” from the “evils” of marijuana use.

        Who are they to tell us we can’t choose marijuana, the safer choice instead of alcohol for relaxation, after a long, hard day, in the privacy of our own homes?

        People who consume marijuana are smart, honest, hard working, educated, and successful people too, who “follow the law” also.(except for their marijuana consumption under it’s current prohibition of course) .

        Not the stereotypical live at home losers prohibitionists make them out to be. They are doctors, lawyers, professors, movie stars, and politicians too.

        Several Presidents of The United States themselves, along with Justin Trudeau, Bill Gates, and Carl Sagan have all confessed to their marijuana use. As have a long and extensive list of successful people throughout history at one point or other in their lives.

        Although that doesn’t mean a dam thing to people who will make comments like “dopers” and “stoners” about anybody who uses the slightest amount of Marijuana although it is way safer than alcohol.

        To these people any use equals abuse, and that is really ignorant and full of hypocrisy. While our society promotes, advertises, and even glorifies alcohol consumption like it’s an All American pastime.

        There is nothing worse about relaxing with a little marijuana after a long hard day than having a drink or two of alcohol.

        So come off those high horses of yours. Who are you to dictate to the rest of society that we can’t enjoy Marijuana, the safer choice over alcohol, in the privacy of our own homes?

        We’ve worked real hard our whole lives to provide for our loved ones. We don’t appreciate prohibitionists trying to impose their will and morals upon us all.

        Has a marijuana consumer ever forced you to use it? Probably not. So nobody has the right to force anybody not to either.

        Don’t try to impose your morality and “clean living” upon everybody else with Draconian Marijuana Laws, and we won’t think you’re such prohibitionist hypocrites.

        Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

        • Brian Kelly says:

          There is absolutely no doubt now that the majority of Americans want to completely legalize marijuana nationwide. Our numbers grow on a daily basis.

          The prohibitionist view on marijuana is the viewpoint of a minority and rapidly shrinking percentage of Americans. It is based upon decades of lies and propaganda.

          Each and every tired old lie they have propagated has been thoroughly proven false by both science and society.

          Their tired old rhetoric no longer holds any validity. The vast majority of Americans have seen through the sham of marijuana prohibition in this day and age. The number of prohibitionists left shrinks on a daily basis.

          With their credibility shattered, and their not so hidden agendas visible to a much wiser public, what’s left for a marijuana prohibitionist to do?

          Maybe, just come to terms with the fact that Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think, and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

          Legalize Nationwide!…and Support All Marijuana Legalization Efforts!

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