Clark County could become the first local government in Illinois to ban the sale of marijuana under legislation that permits recreational use of cannabis statewide effective Jan. 1 but includes an “opt out” provision for local communities.

In mid-May, while the measure was still under debate in Springfield but before it passed, Clark County Board member Jim Bolin raised the issue of a local prohibition and said he would have an appropriate resolution prepared.

Bolin was out of the country last week and not available for comment. County Clerk Laura Lee said no resolution is available for review yet but the matter is on the agenda for the board’s next meeting, which will be at 8 a.m. Friday.

Any ban imposed by the board would apply only in unincorporated areas of the county, covering about 48 percent of the total population of about 16,000. It would also apply only to the sale of marijuana and not its use.

When the law takes effect, Illinois residents will be allowed to possess any combination of 30 grams of cannabis flower, five grams of cannabis concentrate and 500 milligrams of THC in a cannabis-infused product. Non-residents will be limited to half that amount and taking marijuana across state lines will be prohibited.

The law would also continue to prohibit public consumption.

“We just had a board member or two that was interested in it,” Chairman John Hammond of Martinsville said when asked why the action is being considered. “I figure most of them will vote in favor of it.”

Board member Rex Goble said, “I know what Jim’s thinking was and I agree with it.”

He expressed concern that allowing the sale of marijuana would lead to more impaired driving.

“We have a DUI problem anyway on the roads and we’re going to add to it,” he said. “To make it legal just for the sake of tax dollars … I just don’t believe it’s worth that extra amount.”

Todd Kuhn, the lone Democrat on the seven-member board, questioned the rush to action. While Gov. J.B. Pritzker supports marijuana legalization, he has yet to sign the legislation, Kuhn noted.

“I haven’t talked to any of my constituents but I personally don’t see an issue if it’s going to be a law in the state,” Kuhn said. “If you’ve ever smoked marijuana, you’d be a hypocrite to vote to ban it.”

At the same time, he acknowledged the potential quandary of making recreational use of marijuana legal at the state level when it is still prohibited at the federal level. Illinois is set to become only the second Midwest state, after Michigan, and the 11th state in the country, to legalize marijuana.

John Trefz, mayor of Marshall, the Clark County seat and largest city, wants to await further details and interpretation of the law before taking any action.

“I’ve not read enough about it to say but if the state says that’s the way it is, other than our attorney telling us (otherwise), we have to honor it, is that not right?” he said.

But Alderman Warren Le Fever said, “I’m going to vote to ban marijuana in Marshall whether anybody else does or not.”

Calling marijuana a gateway drug and echoing Goble’s concerns about impaired driving, Le Fever said, “People who say that it’s not dangerous are simply fooling themselves. It’s simpler and easier that if the county’s going to ban it that the city of Marshall ban it.”

Driving under the influence of marijuana will still be illegal under the new law. The ability of law enforcement to accurately test for marijuana levels was a concern during legislative debate.

With more than six months before the law takes effect, Jeff Voigt, County Board chairman in neighboring Edgar County, said there is time to carefully review the issue before acting.

“We have not looked at it (but) it’s something that we’ll talk about,” he said. “We’ll do our due diligence and figure out what we’re going to do.”

Paris Mayor Craig Smith said he has requested the city attorney review the legislation and, “We’re not going to do anything until we have a chance to read it,”

At the same time, he said, “Off the cuff, it doesn’t seem to be a wise thing to prohibit the sale if it’s going to be dispensed through suppliers who have medical marijuana licenses, which is my understanding, at least to start … I don’t see us opting out of it.”

The nearest medical cannabis dispensaries to Clark and Edgar counties are in Effingham and Champaign, according to a list on the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation’s website.

Dave Taylor can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dave.taylor@tribstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarDave.

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