Politics & Government

Where in Illinois will people be able to use marijuana? Local governments will decide

With recreational marijuana set to become legal in Illinois on Jan. 1, local governments are going to have to decide where people will and won’t be able to consume cannabis.

Illinois has had a smoking ban since 2008 that prevents people from smoking inside workplaces, bars, restaurants, concert halls and gaming facilities, among other places, because of concerns about secondhand tobacco smoke. There is an exemption for cigar lounges.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who sponsored the marijuana legislation signed by Gov. J. B. Pritzker last month, has said no public consumption would be allowed. The law itself says consuming marijuana would not be allowed in any place where smoking is already banned under the Smoke Free Illinois Act.

But the marijuana law also says local governments can decide whether to permit on-site consumption at businesses within their municipalities.

Among the first things municipalities will need to decide is whether to allow dispensaries in town, and if so, in what type of zoning district.

“We put a lot more of the power related to locating the various types of businesses in the hands of the locals, because I think they’re more equipped to determine what suits their locality,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy said if municipalities decide not to allow dispensaries in their town, they would potentially lose out on local sales tax revenue from marijuana sales. Municipalities that opt out would still receive law enforcement money generated by state taxes on marijuana.

Under the recreational marijuana law, the state will allow up each of the current 55 dispensaries to open new locations. By the summer 2020, there can be an additional 75 dispensaries in the state. By the end of 2021, up to an additional 110 dispensaries will be allowed to open. People who want to open dispensaries will be looking at which municipalities will allow marijuana businesses and where in town they could locate.

“In terms of zoning, I think that’s important (municipalities) get that figured out,” Cassidy said. “You’re going to see as these application waves become available, you’re going to see more and more people looking to locate in places that don’t currently have facilities available.”

Places for recreational use

Could there be a place in your town in the future where people can consume marijuana in public?

It’s not a decision municipalities need to make right away, Cassidy said. A municipality would have to grant a special license to allow on-site consumption, whether it be through smoking, vaping, eating the drug, or having it absorbed through the skin.

Consumption could be limited to cannabis businesses, such as a dispensary with space set aside where folks could consume.

“That’s the simplest version,” Cassidy said.

HCI Alternatives, a medical marijuana dispensary business with locations in Collinsville and Springfield, plans to sell recreational cannabis starting on Jan. 1, 2020. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation on June 25, 2019 to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. Mark Gordon, Provided photo from Ascend Illinois/HCI Alternatives

The more complex decision is whether a place sets up a business or establishment similar to a cigar club.

Consuming marijuana could be in places similar to a hookah lounge, where people can communally smoke through a shared pipe, or because of the various methods of consumption, “you could be talking about a spa that uses topicals and anything in between,” Cassidy said.

Topical oils can be extracted from marijuana plants and placed on the skin to help relieve muscle pain.

It could be a place where you can bring your own stuff but it would be up to municipalities to grant permits to these facilities, she said.

“The presumption of smoking is a false equivalency, because there are many ways to consume,” Cassidy said.

“This is really the space that is still very much a work in progress, as you look around the country in terms of figuring out how to do it. That’s why we put (it) in the hands of the locals to determine what’s right for them,” Cassidy said.

But she doubted restaurants and bars would be allowed to have marijuana smoking on premises.

“The reality is that a local government would allow smoking of cannabis in spaces where smoking tobacco is explicitly prohibited is frankly ludicrous,” Cassidy said. “I can’t imagine any City Council member surviving that.”

Cassidy added it was not the legislative intent for people to smoke marijuana in places such as restaurants and bars.

The concept of having designated places where people could consume marijuana outside of their home is meant to ensure people have a place to smoke marijuana without being hit with a public consumption ticket.

“The question here, and the reason for the nature of this question, is what we’ve seen around the country, post legalization, is people who are not homeowners, perhaps folks who live in subsidized housing, folks who are renters, or folks who live in condos that have gone smoke free, don’t have a legal space to consume,” Cassidy said. “We tend to see similar issues for citations for public consumption, ... disproportionately impact(ing) communities of color as we used to see arrests. We want to make sure we speak to that.”

Opposition to marijuana consumption

Anita Bedell, executive director of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems, is urging local governments to ban recreational marijuana businesses and on-site consumption in public.

In a letter to newspaper editors, Bedell said there are public health and safety concerns with on-site consumption

“Legislators thought video gambling would only be limited to bars, restaurants and veteran organizations. However, video gambling machines are everywhere, except in the 125 municipalities and counties where they are banned,” Bedell wrote. “Living near marijuana dispensaries makes youth more likely to use marijuana, according to a study by the Rand Corp. Youth who use marijuana are more likely to experience negative consequences, such as increased risk of mental and physical health problems, according to the researchers.”

Another recent study, however, showed that places that have legal recreational marijuana available, teen use goes down.

The Associated Press reported marijuana becomes harder and costlier for teenagers to buy as legal dispensaries begin operating, said lead author Mark Anderson, a health economist at Montana State University.

Local governments to have discussions

Whether to allow people to be able to smoke marijuana within certain businesses is among several decisions municipalities will face. Another decision is whether to even allow marijuana businesses in town, and what kind of “reasonable zoning” to place on the businesses.

Elected officials in towns such as O’Fallon, Edwardsville and Glen Carbon may soon discuss whether to allow legal marijuana sales in town.

“It should be interesting, because I don’t know what they’ll do,” O’Fallon City Administrator Walter Denton said, referring to the city council, which is expected to discuss the marijuana law later this month.

In Belleville, Mayor Mark Eckert is consulting with city staff on how to move forward, his office said.

Illinois’ smoking ban

There will be no public consumption of marijuana allowed and not in locations where smoking is banned under the Smoke Free Illinois Act, (known as the smoking ban), according to the marijuana legalization law. However, if local municipalities permit it, consumption could take place at marijuana-related businesses, according to the law.

Places where smoking is banned under the Illinois Smoke Free Act:

  • Public places and buildings, offices, elevators, restrooms, theaters, museums, libraries, educational institutions, schools, commercial establishments, enclosed shopping centers and retail stores
  • Restaurants, bars, taverns and gaming facilities
  • Lobbies, reception areas, hallways, meeting rooms, waiting rooms, break rooms and other common-use areas
  • Concert halls, auditoriums, enclosed or partially enclosed sports arenas, bowling alleys, skating rinks, convention facilities, polling places and private clubs
  • Hospitals, health care facilities, health care clinics, child care, adult care or other similar social service care

People can smoke outside of places such as restaurants and bars, but must be at least 15 feet away from the door.


Why did we report this story?

Recreational marijuana use for people 21 years old and older is set to become legal in Illinois on Jan. 1, 2020. We want to inform readers how the state and local governments prepare for legal weed.

We will continue to cover issues related to the legalization of recreational marijuana as communities prepare for it. What questions do you have about this topic? Please contact Joseph Bustos at jbustos@bnd.com

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Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.