Slowik: Legislator fields questions about how legal pot will affect south suburbs

08/16/2019

About two dozen residents raised those and other questions during a public forum on cannabis legalization Wednesday night at the South Holland Public Library. State Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, hosted the event.

“Many of you have seen this has been going on for 20 years with conversations about marijuana legalization,” Jones told the group.

In 1996, California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use. In 2012, Colorado and Washington were the first states to allow legal cannabis for recreational use.
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Jones asked the audience for a show of hands indicating whether people supported legalization. Of the 20 or so people who attended, only two indicated they were opposed.

Jones answered questions about the 610-page Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act that was signed into law on June 25. There is a lot of information packed into the legislation and many questions about how the law will be applied.

People asked about public consumption, for example.

“You still can’t smoke it in public,” Jones told the group.

The law contains explicit language on prohibited uses. School bus drivers, people with commercial driver’s licenses, police officers and firefighters cannot use cannabis “while on duty.” Cannabis is not to be used “in any motor vehicle.”

There are restrictions on the use of the drug in private homes. The law prohibits use in any residence licensed as a child-care facility. It also is prohibited to use it “knowingly in close physical proximity to anyone under 21 years of age who is not a registered medical cannabis patient.”

In other words, parents who get high in front of their kids while watching TV in the living room would still be breaking the law.

The law seems to contain contradictions. That’s not surprising, given that the federal government still considers marijuana an illegal drug even though 33 states have legalized medical marijuana and 11 states have legalized recreational use.

For example, the new Illinois law prohibits “smoking cannabis in any place where smoking is prohibited under the Smoke Free Illinois Act,” the law that has prohibited cigarette smoking in bars, restaurants, office buildings and other spaces since 2008.

But the law also states, “A unit of local government … may regulate the on-premises consumption of cannabis at or in a cannabis business establishment within its jurisdiction” and that “a cannabis business establishment … shall not be deemed a public place within the meaning of the Smoke Free Illinois Act.”

In other words, the law seems to give municipalities the option of permitting people to smoke marijuana in places where it is sold. Communities also can adopt local ordinances prohibiting retail sales of marijuana for recreational use.

“I’m interested to see how many communities opt out of it,” Jones said. “You’re going to have some villages against it.”

A woman in the audience asked a question about marijuana use and traffic safety.

“I was concerned about the number of accidents that could happen,” Jones said.

The law states, “It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis.” Similar prohibitions apply to watercraft and aircraft.

The problem is, how do authorities determine if a driver is high? A Breathalyzer field sobriety test can instantly determine someone’s blood-alcohol content. Similar field tests for marijuana are being developed and tested.

THC, the chemical that causes marijuana’s psychological effects, remains in the body for weeks after usage. It can be difficult to determine how recently someone used marijuana. Drug tests that assess usage commonly involve sampling blood or urine, but that would be problematic in the case of a traffic stop.

“The police wanted the ability to draw blood,” Jones said. “That’s not allowed in any state.”

Illinois law states motorists face suspension of their driving privileges if they refuse to submit to a field sobriety test. The law states that only licensed medical professionals may withdraw blood to assess sobriety, but that “this limitation shall not apply to the taking of breath, other bodily substance, or urine specimens.”

“The General Assembly finds that validated roadside chemical tests are effective means to determine if a person is under the influence of cannabis,” according to the law.

Audience members asked how legalization would affect employment.

“It’s complicated,” Jones said. “You can’t arbitrarily fire employees” for legally using recreational marijuana at home during their personal time.

At the same time, “Employees have to make sure they don’t come into work toasted,” Jones said.

The law prohibits employment discrimination for use of lawful cannabis products.

Some companies are no longer requiring pre-employment drug tests as a condition of hiring because competition for workers is increasing in a tight labor market, an audience member said.

Source & full article: www.chicagotribune.com


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