By Craig Hastings
Because of what I do for a living I’ve been contacted by a few of the area media outlets wanting to know my thoughts regarding Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker’s signing into law a bill legalizing the possession and use of marijuana by Illinois residents. Of course, there are restrictions attached, however Illinois is only the eleventh state to legalize the use and possession of cannabis in some form. The Democratic controlled general assembly overwhelmingly supported the move. The bill will allow Illinois residents to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis flower product and 500mg of THC, and five grams of concentrated THC products. The short of all of this break down is this: if you’re someone who would like to get high once in awhile, Illinois is the state to live. And as law enforcement will discover in short order is: if you’re someone who would like to get high more than once in awhile, Illinois is the state to live. How? Take two of your 21 year old friends with you that don’t use cannabis and have them purchase their own maximum quantity and hand it over once you get back home. Police will never know. Or, so far I haven’t seen anything that restricts how often a person can purchase their 30 gram limit. You might have to drive across town or into a neighboring county but, people will for sure. A person would need to take their first purchase home though to avoid being caught with more than 30 grams. Big whoop.
Not an Illinois resident? You’re in luck if you’re a border state resident or passing through on your vacation. Non residents will be able to purchase half of the amounts Illinois residents are allowed. Could be those vacationers driving north to south or south to north could visit many dispensaries on their route adding to their fun and exciting getaway vacation! Just think about it; out-of-state vacationers might reroute their destinations through Illinois even though it might make their trip longer. Of course, these statements are made with a bit a sarcasm attached but, could this new law influence a cannabis users route if the state they reside prohibit the purchase and possession? I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to believe this might happen. And why not? I believe this new law is every bit as much about sale’s tax revenues not to mention the cost of a license to be tagged a legal dispensary. I believe the cost to be a legal retail provider is currently set a $750. Not only will the State of Illinois, Springfield ride the taxing gravy train but so shall municipalities and counties wishing to add their own predetermined percentages to sales of cannabis in their own jurisdictions. The early tax revenue predictions are expected to reach $57 million the first year. It won’t surprise me to see that number closer to $75 million. Will the legalization of cannabis cut into the amount of alcohol sold in Illinois? I don’t see how it wouldn’t. Good or bad, I don’t know?
Governor Pritzker and the majority of the State’s law makers are selling the legislation based on a social injustice belief mostly in the brown and black communities. Studies show that a much larger percentage of black and brown Illinois residents are arrested for possession of small amounts of cannabis than white residents. The bill will provide expungements of an estimated 700,000 people who have been arrested or convicted for possession of 30 grams of cannabis or less. Some of those people arrested for more than 30 grams may also be able to have their records expunged. These will be determined on a case-by-case basis. At least for now, employers and property owners will still be allowed to set their own standards as they apply to their employees or tenants having cannabis in their systems or possession while on the job or renting property including apartments. This could be problematic for employers though because cannabis can remain in a person’s system up to 30 days. Will DUI arrests increase as a result of driving under the influence of cannabis? I guess time is the only way to tell. It certainly will make it more difficult for law enforcement officers to determine contributing factors of impaired drivers on the roadside.
Let’s talk about driving under the influence and my 40 years experience as a law enforcement officer. I’ve been part of more DUI arrests than I can remember and not one of those was for cannabis. All but one or two were alcohol related. Those other one or two were from the driver ingesting over the counter medications such as cough medicines. The same holds true for motor vehicle accidents both legally intoxicated and intoxicated but not over the legal limit. I’ve worked or been part of hundreds of traffic accidents over my career and none I can remember were determined to be caused by cannabis use. Well you argue of course not because cannabis has been illegal over my 40-year career so alcohol abuse would be the most likely contributing factor. A true statement. I’m just telling you what I’ve observed over my years here in Tuscola. I’m sure in larger municipalities law enforcement will tell you without any doubt they have determined cannabis was indeed a contributing factor or even the single factor that has caused traffic accidents in their jurisdictions.
In my 40 years I’ve been called to numerous bar fights, domestic disturbance altercations, and fights in the street. Most of the time alcohol abuse by all combatants was the reason for the physical altercations. Sometimes those combatants turn on the police when we arrive on scene. When called to altercations between people using cannabis, those altercations are mostly verbal arguments and never in my presence have any those people turned on me at the scene. Again, these are just my observations I’ve made when dispatched to these types of incidents. We’ve all heard the statement that cannabis is a gateway drug to the abuse of much worse illegal narcotics. I’m not sure I agree with this belief. Is alcohol not a gateway product that leads to the abuse of stronger and larger consumed quantities of other variations of alcohol based products? I belief it is from both my professional and personal experiences.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not a proponent of cannabis possession and or use. I’m telling you my experiences of dealing with people that use cannabis over my 40 years as a police officer. Is cannabis destroying their brains? I don’t know. If so, is this any more serious than people abusing alcohol and dying from destroying their livers? I’ve been to many deceased resident calls where the person inside died from an aggressive liver disease caused by alcohol abuse. What will the long-term use of cannabis have on the physical functions of the human body be? Does anyone really know yet? I do believe there is a place for medical marijuana use. There is currently enough science and studies to back this up. The last thing I have to say about this new legislation is this: I do agree that putting people in jail for minor, under 15 grams, of cannabis is a mistake. If just the Tuscola Police Department officers were to put everyone we come into contact with in the possession and or use of marijuana, we could fill the Douglas County jail most months out of the year. Half of those would be repetitive offenders. The cost to the Douglas County tax payers could be enormous. And just like this new law; it’s all about the money.