Illinois Police Department Opposes Legalization
Illinois Police Department has some concerns about you have access to cannabis.
Police in Illinois recently spoke out against a cannabis legalization bill announced by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. Police representatives from the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police participated in discussions of the bill but complained that their concerns were dismissed.
What Would the Bill Accomplish?
The bill would legalize commercial sales of cannabis as well as possession of up to 30 grams for residents over 21. Illinois residents could also grow up to five plants at home under the legislation.
The bill also provides for a loan program designed to promote “social equity”. This would prohibit large-scale commercial grows in favor of smaller growers, with a focus on communities and identities who have been hurt most by existing cannabis legislation. Speaking to the Black United Fund of Illinois, Gov. Pritzker boasted that: “Illinois is going to have the most equity-centric law in the nation.”
The bill would require the governor to appoint an officer to oversee all changes to the law. The officer would also coordinate between police, the agriculture department, and public health authorities.
The legislation would include strict controls on public use, packaging, and advertising in Illinois. Advertising to minors or near public property would be forbidden. Packaging would require regulated seals, as well as health warnings and labeling stating that cannabis “can impair cognition and may be habit forming”.
What Are Police Concerns?
Speaking for the Association of Chiefs of Police, Westchester Police Chief Steven Stelter expressed concerns over residents driving under the influence of cannabis. He believes that the bill isn’t tough enough on drivers who consume. He specifically pointed out that there’s no clear definition of cannabis impairment, and to the lack of suitable breathalyzer devices that can confirm whether a driver has been consuming cannabis.
Among his other concerns were plans to expunge criminal records of those convicted of class 4 cannabis felonies. Finally, there would be regulations to allow home cultivation. Stelter claims that home grows would compromise police efforts to control the cannabis black market by making it difficult to tell the difference between legal personal grows and those destined for illicit sale. He believes that this could lead to an increase in violent crime.
Stelter characterized the plans as a “disaster”. He continued: “The state is turning a blind eye. It’s a bunch of crap.” However, since initial discussions, state politicians have begun making changes to the bill to address police concerns, including plans to restrict home growing to medical cannabis patients.
The Validity (Or Invalidity) of Police Concerns
Unfortunately for Chief Stelter, the evidence doesn’t fully support his position. While it’s true that devices that test for cannabis impairment aren’t exactly perfect, the research shows that legal cannabis is actually linked with a reduction in both alcohol consumption and DUIs.
On the subject of organized crime, it’s clear that maintaining the illegality of cannabis is precisely why an organized criminal market exists. So to think that home grows would increase black market sales is simply absurd. Why buy illegally when you can legally grow yourself?
Finally, it’s hard to see his argument against expunging convictions as anything other than having ulterior motives in light of Illinois’ controversial civil asset forfeiture laws. These controversial laws have been used as a golden goose by state police departments, who have seized $319 million since 2005.
Who is in Favor?
Proponents of the bill, such as state Senator Toi Hutchinson, directly addressed police concerns. Senator Hutchison stressed that the legislation will keep cannabis away from minors and help to prevent intoxicated driving. Some of proceeds from legal cannabis would fund research on cannabis breathalyzers. It would also fund a new force of police with specialist training in recognizing impaired drivers.
The senator contends that cannabis should be treated as a public health concern, rather than a criminal justice concern: “The no regulations, wild, wild west atmosphere we have now doesn’t serve anybody well.”
The senator also came out strongly for expungement of low-level cannabis offenses, stating that: “People in suits will make millions of dollars off selling cannabis, while people are sitting in jail for the exact same activity? That’s fundamentally wrong.”
Meanwhile, other police officers spoke in favor of the legislation. David Franco is a Chicago police officer and member of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership. The latter is a group of police officers in favor of liberalizing cannabis law. “What I feel is important is the impact (marijuana convictions) have had ruining people’s lives,” he said. “Once you’re a convicted felon, you can’t get a student loan or a job. Removing that is the most important thing. We’re making people’s lives whole again.”
Will the Bill Pass and How Can I Help?
The bill has a good chance of being passed. Politicians have until the end of the current legislative session – May 31st – to hold a vote. Fortunately for the bill, Democrats control both the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives. The state’s governor is also one of the bill’s main proponents, so any veto from the Executive Mansion seems unlikely.
If you have friends or family in Illinois, ask them to call their senator in support of the bill. If approved, sales would begin on 1 January, 2020.