Illinois just legalized the recreational use of cannabis and maybe even approved smoking marijuana in restaurants and bars

Jul 11, 2019

Where would you like to sit? Would you prefer the smoking or non-smoking section? These questions were staples for hosts as they greeted customers entering into restaurants before smoking was nationally banned from restaurants. 

However, the monikered lines are ones that restaurant staff in Illinois will have to learn again as the state legislature has made an exemption to the Smoke-Free Illinois Act ban on indoor smoking. The new legislation would allow cities to decide whether to allow on-site cannabis use at bars, restaurants, and even theaters. 

As the most recent state to legalize marijuana, but the first state to do so through the legislative rather than the voting process, Illinois is boldly paving the way for the normalization of the end of pot-prohibition.

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The recreational use of marijuana will be legal in the Prairie State starting on January 1, 2020. The new law allows for an exemption to the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, similar to the exemption currently in place for cigar lounges.

The Smoke-Free Act bans smoking at workplaces and most public places due to the health threat of secondhand smoke. This ban will remain in place for tobacco products, but city officials may consider lifting the ban for marijuana consumption in specific public places, including allowing for the establishment of cannabis lounges.

The legalization of cannabis in Illinois

Near the end of June this year, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation which legalized the recreational use of marijuana for residents over the age of 21. Dispensaries are currently scheduled to be open for business as soon as January 1. 

While the Prairie State is the eleventh state to join the legalization brigade, it is one of only two states to legalize the process via the legislature rather than through a ballot initiative.

Gov. Pritzker and the bill’s sponsors specifically addressed the social equity implications of legalization rather than the nuts and bolts of day-to-day operations for marijuana mercantilism.

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The new law will automatically expunge criminal records for those state residents with arrests for cannabis possession — up to 30 grams of marijuana — and will also help minority communities become full participants in the business-side of legalized marijuana.

“Change is hard, but an essential tenet of good governance is recognizing the need to change the laws that have failed,” Pritzker said before signing the bill at the Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center on the West Side. “In the past 50 years, the war on cannabis has destroyed families, filled prisons with nonviolent offenders, and disproportionately disrupted black and brown communities.”

The power of local politics

When Illinois legalized the recreational use of cannabis, they decided to draft the legislation in such a manner that would allow for the social consumption of marijuana; however, that allowance would be determined by local officials rather than through a state mandate.

State Representative Kelly Cassidy, the lead sponsor for the bill, said that “It felt like it made the most sense for them to be able to figure that out as it suits their communities. It’s really about licensing social consumption spaces, and that’s left very open for locals to determine what they want that to look like.”

Cassidy stated that the new law as passed will allow local governments, such as city councils, to determine whether to allow on-site cannabis consumption licenses to both new and existing businesses. These new standalone businesses would function much like cigar lounges, or hookah bars. 

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Additionally, city officials could allow for the consumption of cannabis in places such as movie theaters. This same authority would also allow local municipalities to determine if consumption in public places has to be limited to vape-pens, edibles, or CBD oils rather than allow the traditional smoking of marijuana.

Madame Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, the Prairie State’s main thoroughfare, has not yet stated whether she will allow smoke-friendly cannabis businesses in Chicago, or how the licensing process for these types of shops will operate in her city.

Rather, Lightfoot hopes to “ensure this legislation is not only rolled out safely and equitably throughout Chicago but also enhances our local economy and community business while prioritizing public safety.”

With a little less than half a year to go before statewide implementation of legalization, pot-politicos in the Prairie State will have to see if popular demand for cannabis consumption sways the local politicians.

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