Cannabis will be legal to use in Illinois starting Jan. 1, 2020 under a new law approved by the stage legislature.
While communities around the state won’t be able to stop this new law from going into effect, they will be able to decide if they want state-licensed cannabis-related businesses operating within their municipalities.
Members of the Hoopeston City Council recent met as a committee, organized by local resident David Webber, to consider options for the city under the law.
However, there were far more questions than answers available during the meeting as the state has not sent out any guidelines for municipalities or their police departments to follow regarding the change in laws.
Webber did outline how the state will approach providing licenses for cannabis-related businesses, stating that the state has been split into various districts and a set number of licenses will be available within each of these regions for the first year. More licenses will be created and distributed starting in 2021.
For the initial part of 2020, the only legal sellers of marijuana in the state will be the medical marijuana dispensaries. Illinois will grant additional licenses to cannabis-related businesses later in the year.
Webber said these license won’t be cheap to obtain, ranging from $5,000-$30,000 in fees depending on the type of business involved, and competition for them will be high due to the potential for profit they offer.
Webber explained that even low-end cannabis-related business can bring in $150,000-$250,000 in profits each year.
He said communities that welcome these types of businesses are able to reap the benefits through sales tax revenues.
Webber said the state also plans on reinvesting a portion of the tax revenues it receives from cannabis sales back into communities around the state.
Webber described how other states that have approved cannabis sales, such as Colorado, have seen a major increase in tax revenue as a result and this has led to more public improvement projects.
Webber said Illinois is the first of the 11 states to approve cannabis sales to do so through the legislature as all of the others had just approved it through a voter referendum.
He said this makes Illinois’s approach unique as the state is straddling the line between the two extremes in regulation seen in California and Colorado.
Webber said Colorado’s regulations for licensure and sales are very relaxed whereas California’s are much more restrictive.
He said each of these approaches had their advantages and disadvantages and Illinois aimed to approach the issue with more moderation.
He said it will be up to the city to decide if they want to allow any of these licensed businesses, which range from cultivation to processing to distribution and sales, to operate in Hoopeston.
Webber said there are several communities that have already decided against allowing them.
One aspect of the new law that was stressed several times during the meeting was that the city can’t outlaw cannabis possession and usage since it will be legal under the new law to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis after Jan. 1. All the city can do is decide whether to allow businesses that produce or sell cannabis to operate in the city.
There was some question as to whether the city would need to pass ordinances limiting where people could smoke marijuana, but the state law will prohibit smoking in the following locations: in public, in motor vehicles, on school grounds, near someone under the age of 21 and near on-duty police officers, firefighters, bus drivers or correctional officers.
Additionally, an landlord or business can prohibit use on private property. Illinois colleges and universities will also be allowed to ban marijuana use.
Webber said some cannabis-related business are designed to allow people to smoke within their shops and it would be up to the council to decide whether they want to allow those types of businesses in town.
Four members of the Hoopeston City Council were present for the meeting.
While none of those present chose to discuss their opinions towards the issue, they did have many questions about the new law and answers were in short supply.
Alderman Jeff Wise said most of the questions he has are related to how the new law will be enforced by the police, specifically pointing to a concern over how cannabis-related DUIs will be enforced.
Hoopeston Police Department Sgt. Jeremy Welch was present for the meeting and said that, currently, cannabis-related DUIs are handled by taking drivers suspected to the hospital for blood and urine testing to determine their THC levels.
Welch said most of the DUIs Hoopeston police encounter are alcohol-related.
Illinois law considers drivers with a THC blood concentration of five nanograms or more per milliliter guilty of driving under the influence, regardless of whether the driver is impaired.
The new law does have a provision in it calling for the creation of a DUI Task Force, led by the Illinois State Police, aimed at examining best practices for roadside testing.
Webber said the council will need to make a decision on the matter eventually.
Alderman Chad Yaden suggested the council should try to make a decision before mid-October.
Alderwoman Lourdine Florek said the council plans on having a public meeting to discuss the matter with local residents in the near future. She said a date hadn’t been set yet.
Florek said the will need to be consulted before the council makes a decision on the issue.
Alderman Alex Houmes questioned whether the city should conduct a public meeting since the state had yet to provide anything in the way of guidance on this new law to either the city or the police department.
He asked how can the city provide answers to its citizens if they don’t have the answers themselves.
Near the end of the meeting, the committee members admitted that there were still a lot of unanswered questions.
“There just a lot of unanswered questions,” Webber said.
However, Wise said that it was a good first meeting since it did help them hone in on some specific areas of concern.
“Knowing what questions to ask is important,” he said.