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18-Jan-20 – Illinois may be the eleventh state to legalize recreational marijuana, but there is still a lot of work to be done before everyone gets it right, a panel of experts, including 7th District State Senator Heather Steans, told a North Center community forum on January 11.

Under the new law, explained Steans, Illinois residents 21 or older can legally possess 30 grams of marijuana flower, 2.5 grams of marijuana concentrate, and 250 milligrams of THC in a cannabis-infused product like brownies.

It is legal to smoke in your home or in a cannabis-related business, she says, but not in any public place like a park or on the street, nor in any motor vehicle. It is illegal to smoke marijuana near a police officer, firefighter, corrections officer, on-duty school bus driver, or anyone under 21. Any business can bar the use of marijuana on private property.

Except for medical use, marijuana is still forbidden under federal law, and employers still have the right to fire an employee using cannabis who does not have a medical card authorizing them to do so.

Bryan Zises, co-owner of Dispensary 33, a cannabis store at 5001 North Clark Street, said repeal of state laws against marijuana use will ultimately have a positive impact in neighborhoods where cannabis sales have until now been controlled by the “black and gray markets,” which he says still hold “the lion’s share” of the marijuana market in many low-income neighborhoods.

Bryan Zises

High taxes charged today on legal marijuana are not added to the cost of illegal weed, giving the corner drug dealer a significant market advantage.

“I think that’s going to change,” predicted Zises (left). “For one thing, the quality is better. You’re not going to get sick.”

It will not be smooth for everyone. Getting a minor cannabis offense expunged can take as long as a year because of backlogs in the courts, which are working to erase thousands of records, an effort that could take several years.

Eventually, once the cost of expungements and other administrative expenses are paid, there will be financial benefits for Illinois, says Steans.

She estimates two percent of the windfall will pay for public education and safety campaigns, eight percent for law enforcement and training, 35 percent will be used as general revenue, with the remainder used for substance abuse prevention and mental health programs, as well as miscellaneous costs associated with passage of the cannabis legalization bill.

Steans has no regrets helping to make cannabis legal in Illinois.

“Prohibition hasn’t worked,” said Steans (right). “It’s disproportionately harmful to some communities. We must make sure people from those communities are able to use these new opportunities.”

Heather Steans

And she said cannabis is not a “gateway” drug.

“It’s a lot less addictive than tobacco. That was a concern of mine before I supported the bill.”

Also speaking at the forum were Dr. Wilnise Jasmin, Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Chicago Department of Public Health, Katyln Johnson, Executive Director of BlackRoots Alliance, Erica Lindsay, a professor teaching Cannabis and the Law at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois, and Alysia Tate, Director of Strategy and Organizational Development at Cabrini Green Legal Aid.

The forum at Davis Theater was hosted by Northcenter Chamber of Commerce.