Legal weed in the Land of Lincoln

Navigating Illinois’ Adult-Use Cannabis law
Updated: Jan. 30, 2020 at 9:45 PM CST
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METROPOLIS, Ill. (KFVS) - The first month of Illinois’ Adult-use Cannabis law has been an adjustment for not only those looking to legally use the drug, but for the men and women charged with enforcing the law.

Marijuana is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s website, Marijuana is still considered a schedule one substance. That puts pot higher up on the DEA’s list of dangerous drugs than cocaine, meth, or even fentanyl.

So, when it became legal for adult use in Illinois on the first day of the new year, police officers who’ve spent years, even decades enforcing the laws against it had to change the way they react to cannabis.

“If I'm off duty and I smell it I get whiplash; you know?” said Metropolis Police Chief Harry Masse. “I'm like, who’s got that?”

Chief Masse has been in law enforcement in the state of Illinois since the 1980s. The entirety of his career the smell of pot alone was enough of a reason to investigate. But not anymore. Now, that tell-tale smell isn’t necessarily enough to give officers probably cause.

“It’s going to be a learning curve, especially for us senior guys,” said Chief Masse.

Since the new law has been in effect, officers have learned it’s not simply whether or not someone has marijuana in their possession. It’s now a matter of where they have it, how much they have, and whether or not it’s in an approved container.

“I think it was 22 minutes after midnight [January 1] one of my officers arrested a person and we found almost 90 grams,” said Masse. “So, he already had three times the legal limit, and dispensaries weren’t even open yet to sell… The easiest way to put this law into perspective, is it the Cannabis Control Act is still in effect. All these are is exemptions. So, everything about cannabis is illegal, except…”

Illinois’ law doesn’t have many “excepts.” Which is why police say anyone looking to use Marijuana legally had better know the law and follow it.

“We’re afraid people are just going to hear it’s legal and their ears will stop there,” said Marion Police Chief David Fitts. “I just want to tell everybody out there that if you are one of these people that this is what you’re going to do – educate yourself. Because if you don’t, you could find yourself in jail.”

There are a few key points police really want marijuana users to know about the new law. First, you have to be 21 years or older to use it. Second, you cannot smoke marijuana in public. Third, it must be purchased from a state-licensed dispensary.

But there are far more complications users need to know to remain on the right side of the law.

Illinois residents may have 30 grams of cannabis leaf, 500 mg of THC-infused products, or up to 5 grams of cannabis concentrate.

Out-of-state residents can have no more than half of those amounts: 15 grams cannabis leaf, 250 mg THC-infused products, or 2.5 grams of cannabis concentrate.

At home, Illinois residents cannot grow marijuana plants unless you have a state-issued medical card. However, they can smoke marijuana in their home, and possess up to 30 grams of leaf for personal use.

It is illegal to smoke marijuana anywhere in public. Out in public, Illinois residents can carry up to 30 grams, but it must be in the container from the dispensary and must remain sealed.

“If that’s broken -- then you’re fair game,” said Chief Fitts. “I’d really hate to see that happen to anybody when they think they’re their okay, it’s in the right container and I’m not smoking – well the seal can’t be broken.”

In the car is similar to out in public. Again, Illinois residents can have up to 30 grams, but it must be in its original, sealed, odor-proof package. Users cannot smoke while driving.

“Even sitting in the parking lot – that’s a violation,” said Marion Police Officer Daniel Ogden.

Officer Ogden is one of Marion Police Department’s three canine handlers. He said he and canine Zara’s job hasn’t changed much on the road. Even though weed is now legal – if it’s transported correctly neither he nor Zara should smell it. If they do, that legally opens the door for Officer Ogden to search the vehicle.

“We would still treat it as probably cause to search the vehicle,” said Officer Ogden.

If the driver is impaired from using marijuana, they’re looking at a Driving Under the Influence charge along with charges of illegal possession.

“It’s each individual’s responsibility to research what they can and cannot do in terms of using it,” said Detective Jim Corry with Metropolis Police.

That’s why Detective Corry still expects to see cases involving marijuana coming across his desk in the future.

“What a lot of people don’t realize -- it’s got to be purchased from a licensed, state certified dispenser,” said Detective Corry. “You can’t just walk down to the drug dealer on the corner and buy a dime bag and still be legal. That’s still against the law.”

Chief Masse said he’s not as worried about pot smokers. He says he’s far more concerned with amateur users trying THC edibles which he said can be a lot stronger.

Chief Masse said eating them takes a lot longer to get into a user’s system than inhaling pot smoke. His concern is people may get impatient to feel the effects and take more than they should. He also urged parents who plan to use edibles to keep them well out of the reach of children.

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