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St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly (center, in blue-white shirt), a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, speaks with voters during a forum on marijuana on Monday at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

CARBONDALE — Democratic congressional candidate Brendan Kelly sat down with with 12th District voters Monday evening to discuss the future of marijuana policy in the United States.

Seated in a circle in Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Morris Library Rotunda, about 30 people shared their thoughts on legalization with the St. Clair County state’s attorney, who hopes to unseat incumbent Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, in November.

Kelly said his job as a prosecutor has required him to make decisions based upon the evidence, and that research shows that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes would be beneficial — particularly for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Throughout the hour-long discussion, Kelly made it clear that he isn’t sold on the idea of recreational marijuana, but believes the drug should be removed from the Schedule 1 list. Everyone present was in favor of some form of legalization.

Kyle Baker asked how Kelly would sell other lawmakers on the value of legalizing cannabis if he is elected.

Kelly said the issue seems to transcend party lines.

“I got some Democrats who are against it. I know some Republicans who are for it. That’s Southern Illinois. It’s not so simple. There’s a lot of crossover,” Kelly said.

Kelly said that in a time when even former House Speaker John Boehner is in favor of legalization, there is “a tremendous opportunity to develop a consensus no matter what side of the aisle you’re on.”

He said the policy must be implemented appropriately and that marijuana should not be available to kids. Later, one attendee pointed out that marijuana can be effective for treating children with epilepsy, and Kelly conceded the point.

Olivia Hajnos said she suffers from Arnold–Chiari malformation Type I, a brain condition that causes the cerebellum to descend through the base of the skull and crush the spine. The defect has led to a host of problems for her, including chronic pain. She has started using medical marijuana, but she said she feels like a criminal every time she goes to the dispensary. 

“I can’t talk about it openly as much as I’d like to, because of stigma and all that stuff. And I don’t want to be, I guess, guilty that I’m getting my medicine,” Hajnos said.

She said she has completely stopped taking opioids and that using medical marijuana has been “a miracle.”

“A huge number of overdoses, from heroin, fentanyl, it all starts with prescription opioids,” Kelly said. “ … When they (big pharmaceutical companies) are pushing back so strongly on further research into cannabis, that to me is a tell — that they know the benefits of this change in public policy. And you, to me, are the living example.”

After the forum, Kelly told the newspaper that he hosted the event because he believes people who are running for office should be available to talk with their future constituents, whether they agree or disagree. (In the past two years, Bost has been widely criticized for his unwillingness to host in-person town halls.)

“As an elected official, or someone who is aspiring to be an elected official, you should be able to look people in the eye and have a conversation with them, hear what they have to say … and express the way you may feel about an issue and also be willing to listen and inform your views about a particular issue,” Kelly said.

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On Twitter: @janis_eschSI



Janis Esch is a reporter covering higher education.

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