Though legal, marijuana not a free-for-all

Laws still apply to public use and possession

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Although adult use marijuana was legalized in Illinois on Jan. 1, it is still possible to run afoul of the law when it comes to public use and improper possession in regard to amount and how the weed is packaged. Local citations are still being written, as careful readers of our Police Blotters have seen. Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas and River Forest Police Chief Jim O'Shea offered feedback on the law and what residents need to remember.

Possession limits

Possessing pot is legal if you're an adult in the state of Illinois. But there are restrictions on how much weed you can have at one time.

O'Shea provided the Review with possession limits for marijuana, and they are as follows for Illinois residents aged 21 and over:

•      30 grams or less of cannabis flower

•      Five grams or less of cannabis concentrate

•      No more than 500 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product

For non-Illinois residents, the amounts that can be possessed legally are halved:

  • 15 grams or less of cannabis flower
  • 2.5 grams or less of cannabis concentrate
  • No more than 250 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product

Vehicle restrictions

In a motor vehicle, there are stiff regulations concerning use and possession.

•      Drivers and passengers are not permitted to smoke cannabis while in a motor vehicle on a public road.

•      Any cannabis within a motor vehicle must be in a sealed, odor-proof, child-resistant container, whether it is in the possession of the driver or a passenger.

Use in public places vs. private property

A "public place" is defined officially as "any place where a person could reasonably be expected to be observed by others." Public places include buildings owned in whole or in part or leased by the state or any unit of local government.

Also included in the definition are "all areas in a park, recreation area, wildlife area, or playground owned in whole or in part, leased, or managed by the state or a unit of local government."

It is legal to smoke pot in a private residence if you are 21 or older, except for private residences that operate as licensed childcare, foster care, or similar businesses.

Additionally, within a private residence there is still a restriction related to using marijuana "knowingly in close proximity to anyone under 21 years of age" but the definition of "proximity" isn't clear, according to the WBEZ Pocket Guide to Marijuana, interactive.wbez.org/2019/weed-guide/.

When asked about smoking outdoors on private property, such as on a front porch or in a backyard, Aftanas brought up the definition of "public place" as defined by law: "any place where a person could reasonably be expected to be observed by others." A back yard, behind a fence, would be a better idea than on a front porch in view of people walking past, said Aftanas, though he added that it would be up to the officer's discretion as to enforcement.

The city of Chicago has taken an official stance on the issue of outdoor smoking on private residences. According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and interim police Superintendent Charlie Beck announced that Chicago residents 21 or over smoking marijuana in backyards and balconies would not be ticketed.

"While the state law prohibits cannabis consumption in a 'public space,' which is defined as anywhere you can be observed by others in public, the Chicago Police Department recognizes that an individual using cannabis in their own backyard or balcony poses no direct threat to public safety, and no resident should be arrested or ticketed solely for such a scenario," said Lightfoot and Beck in a joint statement.

Growing laws

It is still illegal for a person without an Illinois medical cannabis card to grow any cannabis plants.

Illinois residents with an Illinois medical cannabis card can grow up to five plants over five inches tall within their residence. According to the Illinois Sheriffs' Association, "The cannabis plants and any cannabis leaf in excess of 30 grams must remain outside of public view within a closed, locked space on the residential property."

And even with a medical cannabis card, anyone caught growing more than five plants can be charged with a felony.

Impact on policing

O'Shea said he has not noticed a change in the number of citations given for marijuana-related offenses, but Aftanas said he seen a decrease in Forest Park's police department. Although he stated it's tough to know for sure since only full one month has passed since legalization, in January 2019 the department gave out 10 citations for marijuana possession, in February 2019 it gave 13, and in January 2020 only four.

Part of that, he said, is that prior to the change in law, if the police were called for a noise complaint, for example, and found people smoking marijuana, the pot would be a reason for a citation. Now, if marijuana is being smoked in the privacy of a home, it's not.

But he added that smoking marijuana in public wasn't a huge problem prior to legalization. "Most people weren't walking down Madison Street smoking weed," said Aftanas. And they still aren't. "There was a lot of information before the change in law. I think people are aware that it's still not OK to smoke in public."

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