Metro-East News

St. Clair County sheriff says legalized marijuana poses additional threats to drivers

Here’s what some people in Illinois think about legalized marijuana

As more and more states legalize marijuana, the popular opinion in Southern Illinois is that the drug should be legal in the Land of Lincoln, too.
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As more and more states legalize marijuana, the popular opinion in Southern Illinois is that the drug should be legal in the Land of Lincoln, too.

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson on Monday voiced his opposition to proposed legislation that would make cannabis use legal in Illinois.

Watson said efforts to curb drunk driving and texting behind the wheel already taxes his deputies. Drivers impaired by marijuana use, he said, poses an additional challenge.

“One of our biggest efforts is to reduce impaired driving in St. Clair County. Already, we are up against alcohol and texting,” he said in a released statement. “This bill adds marijuana to the list without adequate resources for law enforcement to educate the public. Simply put: Legalizing marijuana will result in more traffic accidents, injuries and deaths.”

Watson did not say the proposal should be taken off the table — “I understand what our legislators are trying to achieve,” he said — but pointed out four specific objections to Senate Bill 7, as it’s currently written.

Namely, he said the bill doesn’t do enough to deter the risk of impaired driving; that legalization opens the door to foreign cartels, drug traffickers and organized crime to move into neighborhoods; that provisions in SB7 to expunge drug distribution and manufacture convictions from criminal records could inadvertently put firearms in the hands of felons; and that the 8% proposed tax is not enough to fund the additional law enforcement work that would result.

Watson’s statement Monday is consistent with the positions of both the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and Illinois Association of Police Chiefs.

The statements put out by those agencies are guiding the Madison County Sheriff’s Department as well.

“We will wait to see what the final version of the bill says before we take any action,” Maj. Jeff Connors of the department said Monday afternoon. “We are not part of the lawmaking decision, we just enforce the laws. If it changes, we will address that.”

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