Champaign City Council preps for marijuana legalization

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – When the clock strikes midnight this New Year’s, there will be a few new changes around the city of Champaign.

The video gaming industry is looking to add an additional sixth terminal to businesses, but arguably the biggest will be the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21.

“We’ll have to see how this plays out in the real world, but cannabis consumption has been a part of our community for decades,” said Deputy Mayor Tom Bruno. “I don’t think this will cause any problems to our functioning society.”

Under the new Cannabis Regular and Tax Act (CRTA), those ages 21 and over will be allowed to purchase cannabis from licensed businesses. Recreational users will be allowed to purchase up to an ounce of cannabis or roughly 30 grams and products containing 500 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive compound that gives users the “high” sensation.

Cannabis-related paraphernalia will also be considered legal under the new legislation. Assistant city attorney Kathryn Cataldo noted that the Champaign Police Department and its staff can readily distinguish between other forms of paraphernalia and those associated with using cannabis.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Illinois since 2013, and while there aren’t many changes coming to that side of things, medical users will be allowed to cultivate up to five plants for personal use.

Municipalities throughout the state will be able to opt-in to on-premise consumption of cannabis at dispensaries should they so choose. Phoenix Botanical, the only current dispensary in Champaign, stated that on-premise consumption is not part of its current business model.

“I am OK with opting in,” said city council member Matthew Gladney. “I’d prefer to have the item on the books if the state decides to loosen up on licenses down the road… It’s a social thing, it’s recreational. We do the same at bars, go in and drink for hours.”

In addition to legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, part of the new legislation will be aimed towards those who have been negatively impacted with minor drug charges in the past.

The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is offering a $30 million low interest loan program to reduce “financial barriers for new businesses attempting to obtain a cannabis business license and enter the marketplace.”

Part of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act calls for the automatic expungement of “minor cannabis violations” by Illinois State Police and local law enforcement. The city of Champaign also plans to host a “Clean Slate Day” where those with city cannabis citations can be settled for a lower amount than the minimum fine.

Proposed fines regarding the new cannabis, vaping, and tobacco ordinances would mirror the corresponding citations in the liquor ordinance.

“My concern is that the fine for underage consumption is the same as the fine for selling to a minor,” said city council member Alicia Beck. “To me, selling to a minor should be a higher offense, and that should be a reflection of the fines.”

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