How Illinois Cities and Towns are Preparing for Cannabis Legalization

How Illinois Cities and Towns are Preparing for Cannabis Legalization

More states are legalizing cannabis both for medical and recreational use, a move that has gained increased acceptance among members of the general public. The reality of these law changes has some cities and towns scrambling to adjust. Many move to change their zoning laws and add city ordinances governing sales to deal with the new legislation. Others are bracing for the cultural changes they fear will follow. This situation is currently happening in Illinois, where recreational cannabis will become legal on January 1, 2020. When legal pot hits the Midwest, it has to say something about cultural attitudes.

Illinois Communities

Culturally, Illinois is divided into two basic parts: Chicago and Downstate. Chicago and its suburbs tend to be far more liberal than the downstate population, which is largely rural. So the legalization of cannabis has received mixed reviews in Illinois, although even some small conservative towns are eagerly anticipating the increased tax revenue generated by recreational cannabis sales.

Illinois is also bordered by some very conservative states such as Missouri. Although Missouri has technically legalized medical marijuana, many providers are reluctant to enroll patients in the program, partly because medical dispensaries are not opening until mid to late 2020. These circumstances mean that Missouri law enforcement is on high alert for Illinois cannabis sales that can easily cross the river. This type of legal quandary will undoubtedly play out in more states as cannabis is legalized in Mid-America and other more rural areas.

Zoning Laws

The state law allows individual cities and towns to decide if they will sell recreational marijuana. Chicago lawmakers have divided the city into seven zones and will allow 13 marijuana retailers in each. The mayor has introduced a zoning ordinance to ban recreational sales in the city’s famous Loop and Magnificent Mile area, however.

Some of the Chicago suburbs have decided to ban recreational sales. For instance, Arlington Heights will not allow recreational marijuana sales but Buffalo Grove will.

Small downstate towns like Quincy have approved recreational sales, largely to get much-needed tax revenue. Despite some last-minute zoning concerns, the city did vote to allow recreational cannabis sales in already zoned commercial areas with the stipulation they observe a 100-foot setback from daycare operations and schools. Several medical marijuana dispensaries have been designate dual sites by the state, meaning they can sell recreational marijuana as well as medical.

Local Ordinances

Illinois towns have hurriedly adopted new ordinances to deal with the recreational sales. Quincy’s recently adopted regulations include:

Illinois residents 21 and older can possess cannabis with a limit as follows:

  • 30 grams of cannabis flower
  • Up to 500 milligrams of THC contained in cannabis-infused product
  • 5 grams of cannabis concentrate

Non-residents 21 and older can possess cannabis as follows:

  • 15 grams of cannabis flower
  • 2.5 grams of cannabis concentrate
  • Up to 150 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product

Since Quincy is a Mississippi river town, law enforcement is concerned that Missouri residents will buy their cannabis in Illinois and transport it over the bridge to Missouri where it is still illegal. Quincy police don’t plan to specifically try and stop this transport, but Missouri law enforcement may be tempted to closely monitor bridge traffic.

Tax Revenues

Illinois lawmakers are hoping for hundreds of millions in tax revenue due to the change in cannabis law, but officials from other states urge caution. Revenue estimates have often proven to be wrong, particularly in the early days of cannabis legalization.

Local tax revenue estimates are also uncertain. In the Quincy area, the county board is taxing the product at a max of 3.75. The city voted to tax the sales at the maximum of 3%. Although the town leaders don’t really know what kind of revenue to expect, they are hoping it will make a difference. Currently, the town is suffering from a revenue shortfall that has led to the recent adoption of an unpopular food and beverage tax.

Nationwide Concerns

What is currently happening in Illinois has already played out in other states, but the Midwestern dynamics are new. The only other Midwestern state that allows recreational cannabis sales is Michigan, and its law just went into effect December 1. Until now, recreational sales were legal in states that could be considered far more liberal than their Midwestern counterparts. These laws challenge what some residents still consider Midwestern values. While alcohol freely flows in the rural areas, cannabis has always been looked at with suspicion, even for medical use.

Clearly that attitude is changing since some Illinois small towns have voted to allow recreational sales. The state did not impose those sales on them. Now they are working to balance their concerns about pot with its business potential.

First Year Results

Legal cannabis has come to the heartland, and that may have long-ranging effects. These changes may influence other “fly-over states” to embrace recreational marijuana. The upcoming year will be quite informative. If things go well in Michigan and Illinois, can legalization in Missouri and Iowa be far behind?

Illinois has always been a odd blend of urban and rural concerns. In fact, downstaters often wish aloud that Chicago would spin off into its own state and leave the more conservative areas alone. But no downstate town had to allow recreational marijuana. Quincy voted to, and it’s not a progressive town in any way. That act alone indicates that the cannabis battle may be nearing its end. It’s not unreasonable to think it will be legal nationwide in just a few years, even if the federal government fails to act.

December 15, 2019Comments Off

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