Brendan Kelly

Brendan Kelly, St. Clair County state's attorney, speaks during a news conference in Belleville in 2017. 

CARBONDALE — Congressional hopeful Brendan Kelly will be having a sit down with voters Monday to share thoughts about marijuana.

Kelly, who hopes to unseat incumbent Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, in November, to represent the 12th Congressional District in Washington said as a prosecutor, he weighs everything on the merits of the evidence in front of him and this has informed his stance on marijuana.

Based on his research, Kelly said he sees strong evidence indicating that for post traumatic stress among veterans, cannabis “is a both appropriate and a useful remedy for treating those types of injuries.”

Kelly also said he agrees with the American Legion, which recently voted in its convention to ask lawmakers to remove marijuana from its schedule one drug list, where it sits alongside other drugs like heroin and meth.

Kelly also said he saw strong evidence from other states that using marijuana in place of opioids can be effective — he said he’s heard from doctors that they would like to have other options beyond the opioids that are being pushed by the major drug companies.

When pushed about whether this stance meant he would be in favor of legalizing the drug recreationally, Kelly qualified his answer.

“I think the first step clearly is the federal government and congress needs to remove it from the schedule one list,” Kelly said. After that, he said “states should be able find the right balance” when it comes to legally handling the drug.

Kelly said he is open to new ideas though, which is why he is looking forward to Monday’s event at Morris Library.

“I’m very interested to hear what people have to say,” he said.

This type of conversation is what Kelly said lawmakers should be having — something which Bost was taken to task for in the last two years.

“It’s a conversation. It’s what elected officials are supposed to do,” he said.

“If they have something that makes you think differently about an issue because of the evidence, because of their personal experience, that, i think, can make us only better public servants.”

This idea of evidence first fits in with Kelly’s ideas for the district he hopes to represent.

Kelly said the 12th is a complicated one, and one that can’t be put into a mold by “talking heads” and political consultants in Washington.

The St. Clair County State’s Attorney said he has met people on the road in the district that love their union job, love their second amendment and want to be able to use marijuana if they get sick and need it. Kelly said this is not something the “consultant class” could neatly put into a box.

“To me that is symbolic of the way this district is,” he said.

“This is not a left versus right district this is a up versus down district.”

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In an interview after he won the Democratic nomination for November’s election, Kelly outlined ways he thought Southern Illinois could be helped, and he said they did not involve contemporary politics.

“I think we are at a point in our country where it is courageous to come forward and break the party mold and reach across party lines and actually get some things done,” Kelly said, adding that he wants to be that person.

Compared to the current rhetoric in national and state politics, Kelly’s centrist views might be a breath of fresh air for voters in the fall. He favors some of President Donald Trump’s stances on trade and is a supporter of the second amendment, however, he said he recognizes that the middle class is being left behind for policies that favor big businesses and the wealthy.

Kelly said from where he sits, voters in Southern Illinois feel exploited by those at the top of the economic scale, a group he said benefits by pitting voters on both sides of the political spectrum against one another.

He said the local sentiment is ”one of frustration at a handful of folks who do really well in this country, while Southern Illinois seems to be getting passed over again and again and again.”

One of the first things he said he would plan to do is take on monopolies, namely the pharmaceutical industry, but he added the cable and internet providers are on his list, too. He said the grip drug companies hold on the cost of healthcare is unreasonable, and their hand in the opioid crisis is undeniable.

“What has fed the opioid crisis is the prescription opioids. That’s where it starts,” he said.

As a prosecutor, Kelly said he has advocated for alternative forms of court that help some caught in the system get help and this includes certain classes of drug offenders.

He said there needs to be greater investment in treatment — alternative courts like drug courts don’t work unless there is a place to send people for help.

Unlike his opponent in the race, Kelly said he sees Obamacare as a flawed, but good start at correcting America’s skyrocketing healthcare costs.

“I think the Affordable Care Act made some significant progress in terms of slowing the rise of costs and expanding coverage but it was not perfect,” he said, adding that it is the role of Congress to come in and make needed adjustments. However, he said even this system is breaking down.

“Congress doesn’t do a good job of overseeing anything anymore,” he said.

Kelly also spoke in favor of finding new ways to measure success in the classroom. He said while he understands the value in having metrics and standards for teachers and students, standardized tests have proven “not to be a silver bullet” to fix failing schools.

“I’m not sure it’s the only way,” he said of measuring school and teacher performance using yearly testing.

Kelly will have an uphill battle in the fall. During the 2016 general election, blue counties in the 12th shifted red for the first time in decades, with voters and party officials both saying the Democratic Party left them behind for “special interest groups,” away from the traditional pro-labor focus of the party.

When asked about how to win back these voters, Kelly said it comes down to knowing that voters, regardless of if their political affiliation are in the same boat.

He said a young man growing up in Cairo feeling disadvantaged while trying to make ends meet for his family is not dissimilar to a working mother in Steeleville trying to do the best for her family.

“They are angry for the same reason,” he said.

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On Twitter: @ismithreports


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