OUR VIEW: Hoping amid rapid pot rollout

OUR VIEW: Hoping amid rapid pot rollout

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Well, that was a fast 180 days.

In case you've been under a rock without wi-fi for the past year, recreational pot becomes legal at midnight Wednesday. Those 21 and older can have of up to 30 grams of cannabis flower and 5 grams of cannabis concentrate.

Overnight, a banned substance is allowed. It all came together with lightning-fast speed.

Consider: Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker, after running on a platform that called for legalization, was elected on Nov. 6, 2018, and was sworn in Jan. 14, 2019. House Bill 1438, the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, was filed on Jan. 28 and had enough support to clear the General Assembly on May 31 and get to the governor for signing on June 25 — 33 weeks after he took the oath.

Phew!

And that set in motion a whole flurry of activity to get the state ready for a start date of Jan. 1, 180 days later.

When Pritzker signed the the legislation, he called it a “sea change." That's an understatement.

The law provided a framework that said pot sales would come through state-licensed dispensaries, yet where those would go was left to an application process. Municipalities also could ban the businesses within its borders.

The result created over the past six months is a patchwork, with this community opting in and that one opting out, meaning even if pot is legal in one place, you won't be able to buy it there.

Police departments also were left to figure out how to determine whether drivers are impaired, which could require a blood test.

There's been questions about the definition of "public places" as defined in the law.

In Chicago, the mayor said smoking would be OK on porches and backyards, but it was up to the discretion of police, too. Several alderman also tried to delay the Jan. 1 launch date because minorities were being left out of ownership of marijuana businesses, a key part of the legislation.

There are plenty of unanswered questions about how this will all shake out. Speed is not something typically associated with the Legislature and the state's rule-adopting infrastructure.

This editorial board has said we believe adults should have the right to use marijuana in a responsible way. Medical cannabis has been legal in our state since 2015, with about 91,000 patients approved to use.

That program took two years to launch after lawmakers approved it. Video gambling needed three years, and that just involved machines and money.

Recreational pot creates an entirely new category of business in Illinois and a massive amount of potential revenue. Illinois could make up to $250 million by 2020, according to one state estimate.

Whether there will be enough pot to accommodate the demand is anyone's guess. We hope the fast rollout doesn't mean those who need marijuana for medical reasons are left without.

We also hope those using are overly cautious about the product and the effect it can have, especially with driving.

This truly is a new frontier in our state.

We're hoping for the best in this new year upon us.

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