Local leaders look into a future with legal marijuana

Late in June, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill that will allow adults to buy recreational marijuana beginning the first day of 2020.
  Though recreational marijuana 
  will be legal to buy and sell
  starting in 2020, Illinois
  residents must be aware of
  restrictions about where they
  can use marijuana.

 

Realistically, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to walk into a cannabis dispensary on Jan. 1 and walk out with a bag of buds. 

It could take weeks or months for legal recreational marijuana to be sold over the counter, and it may never be sold in a store around the corner from your home in Flossmoor or Homewood.
 
At least according to local lawmakers, it’s not totally clear how the new law will affect the H-F area, or whether recreational marijuana would ever be sold within the villages’ limits.
 
As they review the complex legislation, village officials and police departments say they need time to understand all its points and provisions. 
 
More than 400 pages to consider
Village attorneys are analyzing and interpreting the new rules, and conversations are beginning about how this major change in Illinois law will be used for local consumption. 
 
“At this point there are still a lot of questions as to how recreational marijuana will impact the municipality level, given that the governor has just signed the bill,” said Flossmoor Village Manager Bridget Wachtel. 
 
Surveying the potential future impacts of legal marijuana involves examination of a number of facets related to village life. Officials are considering how it could affect municipal decisionmaking, public safety and the business community, not to mention law enforcement operations.
 
Homewood spokeswoman Jennifer Quirke said village officials anticipated revisions to the state marijuana law, and have kickstarted some preliminary discussions about it.
 
“It’s not new. The rumblings have been happening and it has come up in conversations,” Quirke said. “How we are going to approach it has yet to be determined.”
 
In addition to reading the more than 400-page legislation, Quirke said they’re conducting research into how other municipalities have reacted to similar legislation in states such as Colorado, Washington and California.
 
However, Quirke is quick to add those are only examples, and Homewood must make its own decisions with the legislation available in Illinois.
 
For now, Quirke said it’s too early to discuss whether a pot shop could ever receive a permit to open in the Village of Homewood.
 
“Right now, that’s an unknown because we’re looking at potential community impact. We’re always through the lens of making sure our community is safe,” she said. “We think about how it’s going to impact your neighbors, the school district, the park district, local government and finances, as well.”

The village has some experience with the cannabis industry already. The medical cannabis dispensary Windy City Cannabis has operated in Homewood since January 2016. Village trustees paved the way two years prior in 2014, when they approved a zoning designation to enable medical cannabis dispensaries to do business in areas zoned M (industrial).
 
It’s not a pot free-for-all
Phasing in new marijuana law may require public education, so people understand that the legalization isn’t a free pass to use pot any time, any place. Smoking marijuana in a vehicle and driving while intoxicated on marijuana remain prohibited.
 
Villages can pass legislation restricting public use, and laws remain that prohibit smoking, drinking alcohol or using drugs in a public park or forest preserve. It's illegal to use cannabis around anyone younger than 21 or near an on-duty police officer, firefighter or school bus driver. 
 
Also, not everyone will be allowed to sell or buy marijuana. Sale of legal marijuana is limited to businesses that hold a special state license, and only people 21 and older will be able to purchase cannabis products. 
 
Again, local municipalities can put in place their own regulations and license requirements regarding the operation of a marijuana dispensary in their town.
 
It remains against state law to buy and sell pot “on the street,” outside of a licensed dispensary. 
 
Flossmoor Acting Police Chief Tod Kamleiter said in the face of recreational legalization, the department anticipates the same uptick in illegal activity it saw when medical marijuana was legalized in 2014.
 
“We expect an increase in the illegal sale and manufacturing of marijuana with the legalization of recreational marijuana,” Kamleiter said via email.
 
Flossmoor Police Department arrests about 30 people per year for cannabis possession and/or distribution. 
 
Kamleiter said officers will continue to focus on suppressing illegal street sales of marijuana, as well as maintaining public safety, especially on roadways.
 
“Drugged driving complaints could increase and will likely require enhanced training and education of our staff in DUI drug detection,” Kamleiter said.
 
“We are not necessarily happy with the passage of the new law, mainly because we think this will have a direct impact on quality of life issues in our community. There are, however, restrictions built in that will hopefully curb instances of open public use, impaired driving and third-party sales.”
 
Though the entire state of Illinois will move into the unknown morass of legal marijuana in 2020, each local municipality and its leaders will help shape the future of cannabis culture in their area through decisions over business licensing, legal enforcement and societal acceptance.
 
“Flossmoor is in the same position as every other community in Illinois,” Wachtel said, “learning the new law and understanding all of its reaches by Jan. 1, 2020."

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