With Illinois poised to become the 11th state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, the prevailing mood in central Illinois appears to be one of cautious optimism.

The Illinois House passed House Bill 0902 at the end of last month by a 66-47 vote. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign the bill into a law that will take effect Jan. 1, 2020. The new legislation will allow residents 21 and older to legally possess 30 grams of cannabis, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate or 500 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) contained in a cannabis-infused product. Nonresidents will be allowed to possess 15 grams of cannabis.

Some central Illinois residents are in favor of the legislation because they believe it will generate tax revenue. Others believe legalized recreational marijuana can, at a local level, alleviate the widespread misuse of prescription and non-prescription opioids. But some concerns linger.

Miranda Bowald of East Peoria sees marijuana as a viable alternative to opiates. However, she also worries that legalized marijuana will make Illinois roads more dangerous.

“I think it’s a good idea because of the opioid crisis we’re in,” she said. “I think it would be a good alternative for some people. But I’m alarmed that people could be driving while under the influence of it.”

Cheryl Squires of Pekin is not opposed to the legalization, but she also shares the concern about an increase in impaired drivers.

“The only (issue I have) is the same problem I have with alcohol, which has always been legal,” said Squires. “That is, impaired thinking and vision and stuff like that. If people use it, they should be restricted to their personal space.” 

Adyson Aden of Pekin is in favor of HB0902. She has some apprehension, however, about a potential for widespread abuse of cannabis.

“I’m concerned about people overdoing it, using it all the time,” said Aden. “I know my mom’s been talking about how she’s concerned people are going to be driving under the influence of it and things like that. I think that could be a negative.”

Bradley Wood of Bellevue acknowledged concerns that legalized marijuana will lead to widespread abuse: driving under the influence or using marijuana as a gateway to other substances.

“I can understand concerns people have about marijuana becoming legal,” he said. “But, when it comes down to it, marijuana has been really a substance that has been in use by humans for thousands and thousands of years. The problem with it as a drug is that it opens the door for people to use it as an excuse to use other drugs. That’s going to happen anyway, whether (marijuana) is legal or not. The pros are the income that’s coming into the state from taxing it. The cons would be that it becomes more widely spread and people will abuse it to a degree, where they’re driving while intoxicated. That viewpoint is valid, but it’s already happening. People that are going to abuse it are already abusing it.”

Ryan Wiss of Peoria and James Lamer of Pekin are both in favor of Illinois generating tax revenue for much-needed infrastructure projects. Wiss said he has observed the beneficial impact of marijuana-generated tax revenue in states that have already legalized the drug for recreational use.

“It’s something we’ve watched in Colorado and California,” he said. “Look at the school systems in Colorado and what they’re doing and the money that’s developed.”

Lamer hopes revenue that legal marijuana in Illinois will generate will be used for better roads and better schools.

“The roads in Illinois are terrible,” Lamer said. “Everybody knows that. As soon as you cross the border from Kentucky into Illinois, you see that they’re not very good roads. The fact that the tax dollars are supposed to be going to roads and schools will help everything around and that’s what we need.”

James Walters of Pekin touted marijuana’s therapeutic benefits in voicing his support of the legislation.

“Marijuana has always been a therapeutic relaxant,” he said. “I think it helps a lot of people with cancer and pain issues.”