With recreational marijuana set to become legal on Jan. 1, among the decisions local governments are going to have to consider is where people will and won’t be able to consume cannabis.
Illinois has had a smoking ban in place since 2008, preventing people from smoking inside workplaces, bars, restaurants, concert halls and gaming facilities, among other places, over concerns of secondhand smoke. There is an exemption for cigar lounges.
But under the marijuana law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker last month, municipalities will be able to grant licenses to locations to have social consumption take place.
Bill sponsor state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, has said no public consumption would be allowed, and the marijuana law itself says consuming marijuana would not be allowed in any place where smoking is banned under the Smoke Free Illinois Act.
But the marijuana legalization law also allows local governments to 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 opt not to allow dispensaries in their town, they would potentially lose out on sales tax revenue that could be collected in their area from having a potential location. However, municipalities that opt out would not lose out on the law enforcement money generated by taxes on marijuana that will be distributed to local governments.
“In terms of zoning, I think that’s important they 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 smoke 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 in order to allow on-site consumption.
It could be limited to consumption in cannabis businesses, such as a dispensary having a space set aside where folks could consume.
“That’s the simplest version,” Cassidy said.
The more complex decision is whether a place sets up a business or establishment similar to a cigar club.
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Consuming marijuana could be in places similar to a hookah lounge, or because of the various methods of consumption “you could be talking about a spa that uses topicals and anything in between,” Cassidy said.
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 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 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 sent to newspaper editors, Bedell said there are public health and safety are 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.
Whether to allow people to be able to smoke marijuana within certain businesses is among the 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.