Whomever the next governor of Illinois will be, he will be a businessman. He will either have significant personal wealth or even more significant personal wealth. But a major policy point that now separates the two candidates — incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner and challenger J.B. Pritzker — is that one man is a billionaire who wants to legalize marijuana in Illinois.
J.B. Pritzker is a born billionaire whose family owns the Hyatt chain of hotels. He has stakes in casinos, tech startups and other ventures that make even more money. Pritzker is so rich he doesn’t have to bother with campaign contributions at all. The roughly $70 million he’s spent in the race so far, a record, was his own money. Back in January, Pritzker first came out in favor of marijuana legalization and he’s since continued pressing the issue.
Rauner, on the other hand, is the retired former chairman of a private equity firm whose first job in politics, after accumulating his fortune, was serving as the governor of one of the nation’s most populous states. Rauner is so rich that $50 million of the $72.5 million in his campaign finance account is his own.
If the sight of two obscenely wealthy men funneling their personal fortunes into an election campaign makes you queasy, well, remind yourself this: Illinois may get marijuana legalization out of the bargain.
In the name of criminal justice reform, consumer safety, and increased state revenue, it’s time to legalize marijuana in Illinois. pic.twitter.com/6C19fMDOPx
— JB Pritzker (@JBPritzker) April 20, 2018
On 420, Pritzker’s campaign released a pro-cannabis legalization video on Twitter, part of a concerted effort to use marijuana policy as a way to appeal to voters and build a candidate identity. Pritzker’s embrace of cannabis legalization began in January, when he was still running in a crowded primary field. Now that the primary race won, and the Democratic nomination is secured, Pritzker still has to appeal to voters. His support of marijuana legalization may also be part of an effort to compensate for an FBI-recorded phone call with disgraced ex-governor Rod Blagojevich, in which Pritzker made comments deemed insensitive to black people.
For all these reasons, embracing drug reform — and, specifically, advocating for making space for black and brown people in a newly created cannabis industry — is a smart move for Pritzker. Rauner’s opposition to marijuana legalization, and his obstinacy in streamlining Illinois’s cumbersome medical cannabis program, is also a handy stick for Pritzker to hit him with.
A majority of Illinoisans agree that this is the right thing to do, but @BruceRauner is firmly against it. He’s even made medical marijuana in Illinois nearly inaccessible. The verification process alone leaves patients waiting for relief.
— JB Pritzker (@JBPritzker) April 20, 2018
That’s not all. Supporting marijuana legalization is also consistent with earlier decisions made by other, richer billionaires — and other members of his own family.
Billionaires figured prominently in California’s push to legalize marijuana in 2016. Napster founder and early Facebook investor Sean Parker provided seed money — and Nicholas Pritzker, a California-based tech investor and J.B.’s cousin, contributed $450,000 to California’s legal cannabis initiative. Among the Pritzker cousin’s investments are MJ Freeway, a Denver-based inventory-management software platform for marijuana dispensaries. Nicholas’s brother, Joby, is current chairman of the Marijuana Policy Project, arguably the nation’s leading legalization advocacy group.
All this to say that the Pritzker money spent on legalization so far in California is a small amount compared to the fortune J.B. has exhausted on his bid for governor, with the campaign barely halfway run.
If J.B. Pritzker just wanted to legalize marijuana, he could have funded a ballot initiative like Prop. 64 and saved a few million. But he wants to be governor, and so marijuana legalization has become a plank in his very well-funded campaign machine.
Income-inequality-sensitive Bernie Sanders-types may squirm in discomfit, but there’s no denying what’s now a trend: legalization is happening with support from billionaires.
TELL US, what other billionaires do you think support legal cannabis?