Rec Cannabis To Become Legal In Illinois, Some Questions Still Linger

With recreational marijuana set to become legal in Illinois on Jan. 1, local governments are going to have to decide where people will and won’t be able to consume cannabis.

Illinois has had a smoking ban since 2008 that prevents people from smoking inside workplaces, bars, restaurants, concert halls and gaming facilities, among other places, because of concerns about secondhand tobacco smoke. There is an exemption for cigar lounges.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who sponsored the marijuana legislation signed by Gov. J. B. Pritzker last month, has said no public consumption would be allowed. The law itself says consuming marijuana would not be allowed in any place where smoking is already banned under the Smoke Free Illinois Act.
But the marijuana law also says local governments can decide whether to permit on-site consumption at businesses within their municipalities.

Among the first things municipalities will need to decide is whether to allow dispensaries in town, and if so, in what type of zoning district.

“We put a lot more of the power related to locating the various types of businesses in the hands of the locals, because I think they’re more equipped to determine what suits their locality,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy said if municipalities decide not to allow dispensaries in their town, they would potentially lose out on local sales tax revenue from marijuana sales. Municipalities that opt out would still receive law enforcement money generated by state taxes on marijuana.

Under the recreational marijuana law, the state will allow up each of the current 55 dispensaries to open new locations. By the summer 2020, there can be an additional 75 dispensaries in the state. By the end of 2021, up to an additional 110 dispensaries will be allowed to open. People who want to open dispensaries will be looking at which municipalities will allow marijuana businesses and where in town they could locate.

“In terms of zoning, I think that’s important (municipalities) get that figured out,” Cassidy said. “You’re going to see as these application waves become available, you’re going to see more and more people looking to locate in places that don’t currently have facilities available.”

Locations for rec use

Could there be a place in your town in the future where people can consume marijuana in public?

It’s not a decision municipalities need to make right away, Cassidy said. A municipality would have to grant a special license to allow on-site consumption, whether it be through smoking, vaping, eating the drug, or having it absorbed through the skin.

Consumption could be limited to cannabis businesses, such as a dispensary with space set aside where folks could consume.

“That’s the simplest version,” Cassidy said.

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The more complex decision is whether a place sets up a business or establishment similar to a cigar club.

Consuming marijuana could be in places similar to a hookah lounge, where people can communally smoke through a shared pipe, or because of the various methods of consumption, “you could be talking about a spa that uses topicals and anything in between,” Cassidy said.

Topical oils can be extracted from marijuana plants and placed on the skin to help relieve muscle pain.

It could be a place where you can bring your own stuff but it would be up to municipalities to grant permits to these facilities, she said.

“The presumption of smoking is a false equivalency, because there are many ways to consume,” Cassidy said.

“This is really the space that is still very much a work in progress, as you look around the country in terms of figuring out how to do it. That’s why we put (it) in the hands of the locals to determine what’s right for them,” Cassidy said.

But she doubted restaurants and bars would be allowed to have marijuana smoking on premises.

“The reality is that a local government would allow smoking of cannabis in spaces where smoking tobacco is explicitly prohibited is frankly ludicrous,” Cassidy said. “I can’t imagine any City Council member surviving that.”

Cassidy added it was not the legislative intent for people to smoke marijuana in places such as restaurants and bars.

The concept of having designated places where people could consume marijuana outside of their home is meant to ensure people have a place to smoke marijuana without being hit with a public consumption ticket.

“The question here, and the reason for the nature of this question, is what we’ve seen around the country, post legalization, is people who are not homeowners, perhaps folks who live in subsidized housing, folks who are renters, or folks who live in condos that have gone smoke free, don’t have a legal space to consume,” Cassidy said. “We tend to see similar issues for citations for public consumption, … disproportionately impact(ing) communities of color as we used to see arrests. We want to make sure we speak to that.”

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