Recreational marijuana sales divide suburbs

Diane Makovic, Co-Editor In Chief

With the passage of a bill that would legalize the sales of recreational marijuana in Illinois starting on Jan. 1, 2020, towns in the area have held board meetings to voice both their support and concerns surrounding the controversial issue.

“This is a dividing issue because the [Federal] government says it’s illegal, but some states have taken measures to legalize it,” Superintendent Timothy Kilrea said.

State Senator Heather Steans and state Representative Kelly Cassidy from Illinois created Senate Bill 316 and House Bill 1438 to allow adults aged 21 and older possession of 30 grams of cannabis flower, five grams of cannabis concentrate or 500 milligrams of THC contained in a cannabis-infused product while also legalizing the sales of recreational cannabis in Illinois, according to “An overview of adult-use cannabis legalization” found on Steans’ website.

“I have long believed that cannabis prohibition is bad public policy,” Cassidy said on her website. “We must face the scientific fact that cannabis is less harmful than a substance like alcohol, and treat it similarly. Several years ago, I passed a decriminalization bill turning possession of small amounts of cannabis into a civil ticket rather than a criminal offense. The time has come to take the natural next step.”

Municipalities in the surrounding area including LaGrange, LaGrange Park and Clarendon Hills have all banned the sales of recreational marijuana. However, Oak Park and Lombard are among the nearby villages that are going to allow sales and dispensaries in their towns.

“As a parent and an involved member of our community, I think it’s time for legalization,” said a managing member/owner of a medical marijuana dispensary located in Chicago, who wishes to be kept anonymous due to being an LT parent. “The voters have spoken. I understand why certain suburbs are reluctant. Several council members have a ‘wait and see’ approach as they don’t want to be one of the first towns to allow a store.”

While this change doesn’t directly affect students at LT as it only applies to those ages 21 and older, opponents of this bill fear legalizing the sales of recreational marijuana comes with the risk of increased exposure and availability to these substances, Julie Bryar-Smith, LT teacher and Coalition for a Drug Free Lyons Township member, said. The coalition has attended board meetings and worked with legislators to fight against legalization.

“There is no doubt that the legalization of marijuana will lead to an increase in state revenue as it has in other states that have legalized recreational use prior,” coalition member Brendan Schumm ‘20 said. “But the introduction of legalized marijuana to our community carries more negatives than positives. A study published in the Journal ‘Addiction’ found that living near a marijuana dispensary increases the likelihood of marijuana use and frequency of use among young people aged 18-22. With the advancement of legislation passing through state governments, there is no doubt we will see the average age drop given greater availability of the drug.”

Based upon LT’s results from the Illinois Youth Survey that came out last fall, 58% of seniors and 52% of juniors had tried marijuana. The results showed that in at least the 30 days before the survey, 70% of LT students who had used marijuana tried it in vaporized form. The results provide information about what students are doing, Kilrea said.

“Marijuana has previously been seen as an illegal gateway drug and I don’t believe it will change anything soon under that categorization even if the bill passes through,” Schumm said. “With the legalization of marijuana it will only cause more community members to switch to other higher level class drugs after they reach their tolerance with marijuana.”

Since the approval of the bill on May 31 and as of the printing date of our issue on Dec. 3, 29 out of 55 medical dispensaries in Illinois have been approved by the state to begin selling recreationally, according to the Chicago Tribune. However, some of the dispensaries that were approved by the state are located in municipalities that banned recreational sales in their towns and others are waiting to make a decision.

“There has always been a negative stigmatism surrounding marijuana as medical professionals have yet to discover if there are any positive benefits for those who use it recreationally,” Schumm said. “Well-informed community members don’t want marijuana legalized as it has led to increased crime in other areas where marijuana is legal. Also, continued use by minors and students can lead to permanent brain damage and a difficulty to learn at the same rate as their peers who choose not to use.”