Cannabis top of mind at Julian town hall meeting

Residents concerned about resource burden, underage usage

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Roughly 50 gathered at Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland Ave. in Oak Park, on Oct. 2 for a Marijuana Town Hall meeting, where participants offered their opinions on the upcoming legalization of recreational marijuana and local law enforcement officials explained how they plan on enforcing the measure. The new law on legalizing the drug for those at least 21 years old will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

The meeting — sponsored in part by Oak Park and River Forest Townships, and the League of Women Voters — featured a panel of five speakers, including state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th), Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds, and River Forest Sgt. Ben Ransom. 

Before the panel discussion, those in attendance completed an electronic survey, with roughly half of the 52 respondents saying they're at least somewhat supportive of the sale of recreational marijuana in Oak Park and River Forest (39 of the respondents were residents of either village). 

Around 81 percent of respondents said they were "concerned that the legalization of recreational marijuana will require an increase in community services (i.e., physical health, mental health, or policing, etc.)," according to one survey question. 

Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they think the appropriate number of recreational marijuana dispensaries in their community is between one and three. Thirty-seven percent said that they'd prefer no dispensaries where they live. 

Seventy-four percent said they were at least somewhat concerned about the underage use of marijuana increasing after legalization takes effect (45 percent said they were very concerned about this prospect). 

"For us, it's analogous to packaged liquor," said Chief Reynolds, referencing how the department plans on enforcing recreational marijuana. That means, the same laws and regulations that apply to alcohol — you can't drive intoxicated, you still have to comply with the age restrictions, you can't use it in public — will apply to legalized marijuana. 

Sgt. Ransom, who is also a school resource officer, said his greatest fears related to legalization is the possibility of people, particularly young people, using it in combination with alcohol. 

"With our youth, I think there needs to be a lot of parental monitoring and education, and our communities need to stay up-to-date with what's going on as we all move forward with this," he said. "We need to help our children make the right decisions and let them know that, just as you're monitoring them to make sure they're not going to underage drinking parties, we're not going to allow them to go to underage smoking parties." 

Some people in attendance had questions about what the law entails for people growing cannabis in their homes. Starting in January, people will be able to purchase and/or possess up to 30 grams, or about an ounce, of marijuana plant products, edibles containing up to 500 mg of THC, and five grams of cannabis concentrate products.

Sen. Lightford said that only residents who have medical marijuana licenses will be allowed to grow cannabis and would be limited to growing five plants. But that's still no reason to fear that the government will be after their marijuana, Reynolds told audience members during the Q&A, adding that police would likely need a search warrant before entering someone's home because of cannabis. 

"The Fourth Amendment [provides] some pretty stringent protections for someone's home," Reynolds said. "I can't imagine us going into someone's house and measuring inches." 

Sgt. Ransom said, "We haven't seen an uptick in accidents" and enforcement actions related to marijuana, but a "lot remains to be seen" related to the law's real-life implications. 

"The law is coming and we'll continue to do what we do," Ransom said. "We'll see what happens, what leads pop up, and how case law is established as cases are processed." 

"This is a collaborative process between the community and the police," Reynolds said, comparing the recreational cannabis law to the state's firearm concealed-carry law, which took effect in 2013. Reynolds said his department hasn't seen an "uptick of issues" in Oak Park related to the concealed-carry law and urged audience members to take the same measures with cannabis that they might with firearms. 

"If you are an adult who uses recreational marijuana, I'd encourage you to hide or lock up your stash," he said. "Because it should not be available to young people who are inside of your home." 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

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Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 5:40 PM

Students in our middle school had access to marijuana back in the 1970's, and it was totally illegal back then. If high school kids can get it their younger siblings will also have access. I am not necessarily against legalization for adults, but people must consider the unintended consequences of that legalization.

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