McLean County's top prosecutor said he plans to study up on the potential impacts of legalized marijuana, since it appears Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker has enough support to get it passed through the legislature.
State's Attorney Don Knapp said at first blush, he doesn't believe legalizing pot would lighten the burden on the legal system, as supporters suggest. He said it will likely only cause other problems.
“Whether the decrease in minor marijuana violations is enough to offset the increase in traffic fatalities and other ancillary crimes that we’ll see with increased marijuana use, I don’t know,” Knapp conceded.
Knapp acknowledged he hasn’t studied legal marijuana in great detail yet, but based on what he's read so far, he's also concerned a shrinking illegal marijuana market could lead to violence as dealers on the black market fight to maintain their share.
“As the illegal market shrinks there is more of a fight, people are more apt to use violence to maintain their market share,” Knapp theorized.
Knapp added he believes increasing access to marijuana will likely cause additional health risks.
“I know one of the selling points is it could provide some relief to the opioid epidemic,” Knapp said. “I question the wisdom of substituting one drug for another drug, whether that will provide any relief or not.”
Knapp said he is concerned by the data he's seen about Colorado showing an increase in traffic deaths related to marijuana use since it became legalized there in 2012.
Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said it’s unrealistic to think legalizing pot will squeeze out the black market entirely.
“It’s (still) going to be illegal to sell it without a license and there are a fair amount of people that may continue to say, ‘Why would I go and pay more at the dispensary when I can buy it from individual X and save all this money?'" Bleichner said.
He added he’s concerned that much of the talk for supporting pot’s legalization is centered on its potential to generate additional tax money for the state.
Bleichner added the department would have to consider retiring or repurposing two of its narcotics dogs who are trained to detect marijuana.
He said acquiring a new police dog and training them on a new drug spectrum would cost the town about $20,000 each.
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in Central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.