DeKalb County law enforcement prepare for legalized use of recreational marijuana

Local police officials discuss future for recreational marijuana in DeKalb

DeKalb Police Cmdr. Craig Woodruff said that contrary to popular belief, police already know how to test for impaired drivers under the influence of marijuana, and thinks officers will have a good handle on enforcement come Jan. 1.

With Illinois expected to legalize marijuana use by adults age 21 and over starting Jan. 1, local law enforcement have less than seven months to figure out how to adapt to the new law. Woodruff oversees training for patrol officers in DeKalb, and said officers have known how to distinguish between legal and illegal amounts of marijuana in drivers’ systems since medical marijuana was legalized in 2014.

“The law put a limit on it, kind of like alcohol,” Woodruff said Tuesday. “Within a couple hours of driving, if we take your blood and it comes out to be above that level, that’s conclusive of impairment. So it’s kind of like drinking with [a blood-alcohol content] over 0.08%.”

Although there’s not a device that allows police to determine what level of drugs a person has in their system on site, like a Breathalyzer for alcohol, Woodruff said police can still determine if a driver is impaired.

“What we’re looking for is what we called divided attention tasks,” Woodruff said. “How well you can walk, follow directions, beyond just smell of alcohol and cannabis. The same test we do for alcohol impairment are the same we do for cannabis.”

Woodruff said his bigger worry is that people won’t know just how much marijuana can impair their driving.

“If you have one drink of alcohol, technically you’re not going to be driving under the influence,” Woodruff said. “But let’s say you’re on doctor-prescribed Vicodin, you’re impaired. The legal ramifications are different. But I think the trouble is going to be people thinking marijuana is not as much of an impairment as it can be.”

Police can cite drivers for driving under the influence of alcohol, under the influence of marijuana and a combined DUI of both substances. He said DeKalb has a lot of experience with recognizing impaired drivers, and all officers are already trained in field sobriety.

The bill

Now that the amendment to House Bill 1438 passed May 31 in both the House and Senate in Springfield, the prohibition of legal recreational marijuana sales is all but over: Gov. J.B. Pritzker has to sign the bill – he campaigned partly on legalizing cannabis in the state – and adults age 21 and older will be allowed to possess and buy marijuana products from licensed retailers, effective Jan. 1.

Under the bill, Illinois residents would be allowed to buy and possess 30 grams of marijuana, 250 milligrams of THC in a cannabis-infused product and 2.5 grams of a concentrated cannabis product. Nonresidents would be allowed to buy half of those amounts.

Eligible medical marijuana patients also would be able to grow up to five plants taller than 5 inches in their home without a craft grower license.

Once allocations have been made for administrative and legal costs, 35% of the revenue from taxing recreational marijuana will go to the state’s general fund; 25% will go to the Recover, Reinvest and Renew Program, which targets underserved communities in the state; 20% will go to mental health services and substance abuse programs; 10% will go to unpaid bills; 8% will go to prevention and training for police; and 2% will go to public education and safety campaigns.

The measure was heralded as a revenue generator and also would offer a chance at clemency for people convicted of possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana.

Law enforcement reaction

DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said what concerns him is not just people driving under the influence, but taking advantage of growing plants from home.

“They limit five plants, but don’t say how often they can be grown and who can do so and who enforces it,” Scott said. “It allows for it to be abused by gangs and outside organizations who will take over houses and corrupt what the intended legislation is.”

Interim DeKalb Police Chief John Petragallo said he hopes to get together with surrounding law enforcement agencies, as well as the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office, to discuss strategy. He’s also working with the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and their legal team to sift through all 610 pages of the bill.