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Lawmakers, Kendall County-area officials react to legalization of recreational marijuana

Lawmakers, Kendall County-area officials discuss safety, local implications

Illinois State Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, said he thought the initial recreational marijuana bill introduced in state government was extreme. He took issue with all marijuana-related convictions being lifted and the lack of local control.

However, he said, there was a lot of work put in to address those issues where he felt comfortable enough to ultimately vote in favor of the legislation.

“At the end of the day, prohibition doesn’t work for cannabis,” Welter said.

Welter’s comments come after Illinois lawmakers passed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana. The bill awaits the signature of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has voiced his support and previously campaigned on the issue.

Illinois adults ages 21 and older will be able to carry 30 grams, or slightly more than an ounce, of cannabis flower; up to a half-gram of THC – the chemical compound that gets users high – within cannabis-infused products, such as edibles; and 5 grams of cannabis concentrate, such as hash oil. For visitors from outside the state, those possession amounts are cut in half.

According to the act, users cannot smoke marijuana anywhere smoking is prohibited under the Smoke Free Illinois Act.

Welter’s views on the legislation contrast with other state lawmakers representing Kendall County who opposed the measure.

State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Plainfield, said she didn’t get an overwhelming amount of calls in support of the legislation. She said it still doesn’t do anything for small business owners, it seems counter-productive that more money will be spent on drug awareness in schools and the issue just isn’t a priority for her district.

“And I couldn’t justify the need to have it legalized,” Bertino-Tarrant said, who voted against the measure.

Bertino-Tarrant said it was nothing the bill’s chief sponsor did, whom she applauded for spending the session addressing individual concerns about recreational marijuana legalization and hosting town halls and multiple meetings about it. She said she thinks the sponsors did as well as they could to dot every “i” and cross every “t.”

“Like any big initiative, time will tell,” Bertino-Tarrant said.

State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said she voted “present” on the bill because she had a documented conflict due to a family member having a small investment in a marijuana-related firm out of state. However, she said, she has been vocal regarding her chief concern about public safety, specifically how there is not a test available on the market yet that law enforcement can use to tell if a driver is impaired because they have been smoking pot.

“That, to me, is a very serious issue,” Rezin said.

Plano Mayor Bob Hausler said he hasn’t had the chance to thoroughly study the bill because it’s still so new and it remains to be seen how the City Council feels about it. He said he’s felt that it should be handled in a similar way that liquor licenses are handled at the municipal level and that he has addressed the issue in Springfield previously.

Hausler said it’s his understanding that the recreational marijuana legislation doesn’t include anything like that currently.

“So that’s a huge concern of mine,” Hausler said.

Oswego Police Chief Jeff Burgner said his department is going to abide by whatever laws are passed but still has similar concerns about public safety following the bill’s passage. He said he’s also concerned about what cost implications there will be for officers to undergo as much additional training as they can before the law would go into effect Jan. 1.

“How significant, though, I’m just not sure yet,” Burgner said.

Kendall County Sheriff Dwight Baird said he doesn’t anticipate a huge cost savings at the county jail with the bill allowing for expungements and pardons for cannabis-related crimes, since there aren’t a lot of people incarcerated in jail for simple possession to begin with. If anything, he said, it might cost the county money in the beginning, since the expungement process could be a lot of work for staff.

Baird said his primary concern is still public safety.

“What I don’t want to see is innocent people being involved in vehicle accidents,” Baird said.

Welter said municipalities could pass ordinances opting out of the state’s law and to prohibit dispensaries within their communities, but the municipalities would have had to go through a referendum process if they didn’t take action within a year after the law takes effect. He said that provision has since been stripped out and if a community wants to ban recreational marijuana at any time, they could do that by council or board vote.

However, Welter said, there will be no process for municipalities to have someone to issue local recreational marijuana licenses, much like how a liquor commissioner acts, under the current legislation. He said recreational marijuana licenses still have to go through the state, and he anticipates that being one of the issues that will be the subject of trailer bills, or proposed amendments, following the legislation.

“So that’s one that I’m going to continue fighting for,” Welter said.

Since a pilot program began in 2014 after former Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has granted licenses to 55 medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state. The Illinois Department of Agriculture also has allowed 21 cultivation centers in the state to grow marijuana legally.

There is one dispensary in Medical Cannabis District 25, which includes Kendall and Grundy counties, and that dispensary is the Greenhouse Group in Morris. There are no dispensaries in Kendall County.

Rick Niksic, education and outreach coordinator for Greenhouse Group, was not available for comment regarding the legislation.

Montgomery Village President Matt Brolley said in an email Tuesday, June 4, that it looks as if the Village Board has some time to discuss what this legislation means for the village before the bill takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

“Our stance would be to carefully review the final legislation to determine our legal parameters for regulation and then bring it to our board for public discussion,” Brolley said in the email.

Yorkville Mayor John Purcell said he and the City Council would have to better understand the recreational marijuana bill. He likened the apparent expectation of the council being asked what this ultimately means for municipalities and whether they’d allow dispensaries in the city to how state lawmakers had a maximum of 12 hours to review a 1,500-page state budget.

He said future talks likely will include whether the city would be required to allow recreational marijuana and, if so, what that would mean for associated taxes, for example.

“It’s going to have to be something we will have to make decisions on,” Purcell said.

Oswego Village President Troy Parlier said the village board generally is not going to do anything quickly to address the new legislation. He said there’s still a lot of information that needs to be gathered from the community, the Village Board, neighboring communities, medical professionals and certainly law enforcement.

Ultimately, Parlier said, he and the board want to make sure they find the best solution for Oswego.

“We’re going to be very prudent with this and really sort out all the details,” Parlier said.

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