With recreational pot set to be legalized in the state of Illinois at the start of the new year, the state—and its own cities—must prepare to make coordinating changes on how to better police cannabis users. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has already begun the process of implementing new protocols for her city, and during Wednesday’s city council meeting, the politician introduced a pair of laws that would effectively end the practice of impounding cars found with pot inside, as well as reduce the fines for the public consumption of marijuana.
A New Era on the Horizon
While recreational marijuana will be legal throughout Illinois come January 1st, it will still be illegal for public use. Additionally, pot can only legally be transported in a motor vehicle if it’s in a sealed container that can’t be easily accessed.
Still, Lightfoot believes sweeping changes should be made when it comes to public use. Essentially, the mayor is looking to decriminalize petty cannabis violations—laws that she believes, in the past, have afflicted inner-city people of color for far too long.
“For far too long, unjust and outdated cannabis enforcement laws have adversely and disproportionately affected Chicago’s black and brown neighborhoods,” Lightfoot said in a public news release. “The legalization of cannabis in Illinois presents a powerful opportunity to reform our policies and right these generation-old wrongs of the past as we work to ensure a safe, fair and responsible implementation in Chicago.”
The new laws would eliminate a pre-existing, and frankly, outdated rule that requires police officers to impound any vehicle with marijuana in it. Additionally, under the new set of provisions, the hefty fines doled out to marijuana users would be substantially lessened. Current law slaps first-time offenders with fines between $250 and $500 for possession of fewer than 30 grams and additional fines of $500 for ensuing violations that occur within 30 days. Under Lightfoot’s new plan, those numbers would be reduced to $50 and $100, respectively.
In conjunction with the proposed laws, Chicago law enforcement will be required to undergo training to adapt to the city’s new cannabis-friendly landscape.
“By overturning outdated cannabis laws, Chicago’s police officers will finally have a smart, sensible and safe framework that truly prioritizes public safety of all residents in this City,” Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said in a separate statement. “Over the coming months, the Department will be working to ensure every officer has the necessary training and tools needed to enforce these reformed laws and keep Chicago’s communities safe.”
Lightfoot also suggested that the city would launch a variety of public information campaigns, with the hopes to educate and inform Chicago citizens on the do’s and don’ts of the soon-to-be legal recreational cannabis industry.
What’s Next for Chicago?
According to CBS Chicago, the mayor is currently in the process of drawing up a set of rules that allow legal cannabis consumption at licensed marijuana businesses. This comes on the heels of a recent 40-10 decision on a fair set of zoning laws within the city. A previously proposed zoning ordinance would have barred dispensaries from opening in the downtown Chicago area.
Additionally, three Chicago medical dispensaries also managed to receive the coveted “same site licensing” to sell recreational marijuana.
While Chicago is undoubtedly heading in the right direction when it comes to cannabis law, they certainly have a lot to prove. A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Ed Youhnka, lauded the mayor’s progressive policy changes but believes there are still roadblocks ahead, specifically, when it comes to actually enforcing these new ordinances.
“It’s just a matter of being thoughtful about approaching these kinds of situations and finding ways to both monitor and address any bias that ends up reflected in the data about the way in which this ordinance is enforced,” Youhnka said to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Prospective business owners—particularly those with past criminal records—also face an uphill battle to make a name for themselves in Chicago’s recreational pot scene. But all things considered, things are certainly better now than they were even a year ago.
And they’re only getting better.
written by Tim Kohut