From a possible increase in impaired driving to potential changes in workplace drug testing, legalization of marijuana in Illinois raises a number of concerns. Not all of them are confined to the state’s borders.
A bill signed last week by Gov. J.B. Pritzker allows recreational use of marijuana starting Jan. 1. Medical cannabis is already permitted.
Residents will be free to possess up to 30 grams, about one ounce, of marijuana. Out-of-staters will be restricted to half of that amount. But public consumption and driving under the influence will still be against the law.
Come Jan. 1, 2020, Illinois will become the 11th state to have legalized recreational marijuana use.
State and local police in Indiana have already had experience with travelers from states where the substance is legal.
“We’ve conducted traffic stops where people are coming from or going back to Colorado and they’re confused because they purchased it legally,” aid Sgt. Matt Ames, Putnamville District spokesman for the Indiana State Police.
Ames recommends anyone hitting the road check the laws of states where they will be traveling to avoid a citation — or a trip to jail. Hoosiers might also want to think twice about going to Illinois to buy weed.
“If you purchased it in Illinois and bring it back to Indiana, you will be arrested,” Ames said. “It’s a lot like having a handgun and carrying it from one state to another. I would ask people to educate themselves about which states allow marijuana and which states don’t.”
Still, don’t look for officers to necessarily bust people as soon as they cross the state line. Ames and other law enforcement sources say their overall job remains business as usual.
“Whether or not this change results in more of the drug making its way into Indiana remains to be seen, but I currently have no plans to increase or decrease our drug investigations,” said Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen.
Terre Haute officers will focus their efforts on “those drugs most damaging to our community,” Keen said.
Vigo County Sheriff John Plasse noted that possession of recreational amounts of marijuana would likely result only in a ticket.
No expedient test for marijuana DUI
But Plasse and Ames expressed concerns shared by police in both states about an increased risk from impaired drivers and, in contrast to alcohol, the lack of a field test for driving under the influence of a controlled substance.
“We have to take them in for blood work and that keeps our deputies off the road for an extended period,” Plasse said.
Indiana State Police have officers that have received extra training in drug recognition enforcement, Ames said.
“They are looking for indicators that they may be under the influence,” he said. A positive indication results in a blood test, usually at a hospital. Refusal to submit to a test subjects motorist to arrest for violation of the state’s implied consent law, just as with drunken driving.
But the lack of a roadside test has been a concern of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association for some time, a concern heightened by passage of the Cannabis Regulation and Control Act, which legalizes the drug in Illinois. The association issued a statement expressing disappointment with the act’s passage.
The law requires the Illinois State Police to head a task force to improve education and enforcement of driving under the influence of marijuana, but its report is not due until July 1, 2020, six months after legalization takes effect. The agency is researching saliva-based testing for marijuana, according to a news release issued Thursday.
Several states where the drug is legal “have implemented technology that has shown promise and could be effective … in Illinois,” the release said.
New troopers will receive training in advanced roadside driving enforcement and an already large number of current personnel certified in that area and as drug recognition experts will be increased, Acting Director Brendan Kelly said in the release.
A study of three states that were among the first to legalize marijuana — Colorado, Oregon and Washington — found reason for concern, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
It found a 5.2 percent increase in the rate of crashes per million vehicle registrations, compared with neighboring states where marijuana remained illegal.
It is concern over impaired driving that has the Clark County Board considering a ban on marijuana sales in unincorporated areas of the county, according to board member Rex Goble. A vote is set for July 19.
Local governments have authority under the new law to opt out of allowing sales while continuing to receive their share of a statewide tax. The law also allows local zoning ordinances to be used to restrict placement of marijuana dispensaries.
Because Indiana law remains unchanged, Hoosier employers can “march on, business as usual” with testing policies, subject to federal OSHA rules, according to Noah Frank, a labor and employment attorney with the Smith Amundsen law firm in Chicago.
But legalization is a game-changer for Illinois businesses, Frank said, with “reasonable suspicion” required for substance testing.
“Pre-employment testing is probably out the window because this law modifies the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act,” he said. “You can probably test them for opioids, barbiturates, other substances, but not cannabis.”
When it comes to employees, employers will need to keep in mind that marijuana can show up in urine for 30 to 45 days. He recommends a reasonable suspicion checklist, training for supervisors to “recognize and understand what impairment looks like — what signs and symptoms give you a good faith basis to believe an employee is impaired or under the influence at work.”
Once supervisors are trained, businesses should consider training for employees on marijuana and company policies, Frank said.
“We’ve had a lot experience with alcohol,” but not with marijuana, he said. “Employees don’t know how it will impact their body, how it may or may not impair them, and they may not understand how long it takes to impact them.”
Dave Taylor can be reached at 812-231-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarDave.