Illinois cannabis FAQ:

January 2020 began a new era for Illinois with the legalization of Cannabis sales. Here is your guide to understanding the changes. If you have a question, just go to AskTheNewsroom.com

People 21 and over in Illinois can now purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis flower, up to 500 milligrams of THC–the psychoactive component of weed–in a cannabis-infused product, and up to 5 grams of cannabis concentrate. 

If you’re coming in from out of state, you can buy up to half those amounts. It’s important to note that it is illegal to transport these cannabis purchases across state lines.

And even though weed is legal in Illinois, you can only legally buy it from one of the 37 state-licensed dispensaries. More cannabis shops are likely to open up later in the year, as the state awards additional licenses in May.

At Sunnyside in Champaign, hundreds already in line by 5 am, freezing temps, doors opened at 6 am. Similar with NuMed in Urbana.

People in line said they were very excited about cannabis legalization. Some said they use cannabis to address health/medical issues; others say they’re just glad they can use it recreationally and not worry about getting in trouble with the law.

City officials in Champaign, Urbana and Danville have said they see legalization as a good thing for their communities. They believe it will bring new jobs, generate some much-needed revenue, some of which is supposed to go back to helping communities hardest hit by the war on drugs.

Other local municipalities, like Rantoul and Decatur, have banned cannabis sales, citing concerns over public health and safety.

 

For teens and young adults with certain mental health issues, like anxiety or depression, cannabis use can exacerbate symptoms, said Jim Scarpace with Gateway Foundation, in an interview on The 21st show. 

And since the brain is not fully developed until age 26, “a lot of our problem solving, our memory, even our IQ can be affected by cannabis use early in life.”

Scarpace said cannabis is similar to alcohol in that some people can consume it with no issue, while others will develop substance use disorders or addiction. 

“We know that, in general, 1 in 10 individuals who will use cannabis can develop a cannabis use disorder or addiction to the substance,” Scarpace said. 

But the risk for people who begin using marijuana before age 18 is even higher: about 1 in 6.

Only people who have a license to use medical cannabis are legally allowed to grow up to 5 cannabis plants at home.

None of Illinois’ cannabis businesses are currently minority-owned, and some are suspicious that wealthy, white owners will find a way to scoop up the remaining licenses intended for “social equity applicants,” which will be awarded in May.

In an interview on The 21st show, Pamela Althoff, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, said the industry is committed to the same mission and statement made by legislators to support social equity applicants and help increase diversity within the industry.

“Out of the 700 individual applicants that submitted 4,000 applications, 670 identified as social equity applicants,” Althoff said. “And many of those entities are being mentored and incubated by the existing industry,” with support in the form of business training and seminars.

“We are here to help make this industry look more diverse, we’re committed to working with new partners,” she said.

For the answer to this, we headed over the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. We talked with Dr. Caroline Tonozzi, clinical assistant professor in the college. Her specialty is small animal emergency and critical care. She told me in 17 years that’s she’s treated pets exposed to cannabis. In dogs, most of the problems happen when they accidentally eat an entire plate of edibles like cookies or brownies or consume butter or oils with cannabis.

There’s two problems with that: because its baked into the food, its unclear how high the THC levels are in the food, so they don’t know how much has been ingested. Secondly, the cannabis may be in a food like a brownie, made out of chocolate which is toxic to dogs.

Here’s what Dr. Tonozzi said to look for if you think your dog or cat has accidentally ingested marijuana:

“The main thing is that they start dribbling urine or become urinary incontinent. They sway. We call that Ataxia. They might be less awake or they kind of act like they’re getting tired. They might get dilated pupils, be reluctant to stand up and walk. In more severe cases, it might lower their heart rate and cause them to go into a coma. Cats it might be a little different. They act like they’re hallucinating – acting one way then sitting there and all of the sudden start trying to grab at the air, jumping off and on things.”

Dr. Tonozzi recommends calling the poison control hotline or seeing a vet. There are some decontamination measures that a vet can do.

Like humans, some people say CBD oil from cannabis can help improve health in pets. Did she say anything about that?

We asked Dr. Tonozzi about that. She said there’s just not enough research and studies out there. So she does not recommend it although other vets might.

That depends on what type of cannabis crime you’ve been arrested or convicted of. Here’s how expungement works under the new law:

Local law enforcement agencies and the Illinois State Police are responsible for automatically expunging arrest records that fall under this category. State officials estimate there are about 572,000 such records. Law enforcement agencies have until Jan. 1, 2021 to expunge arrest records dating back to Jan. 1, 2013. Agencies have until Jan. 1, 2023 to expunge arrest records dated Jan. 1, 2000 through Jan. 1, 2013. By Jan. 1, 2025, arrest records prior to Jan. 1, 2000 must be expunged.

You do not qualify for automatic expungement under the new legalization law. However, individuals can file motions to vacate cannabis offenses up to 500 grams. Legal aid organizations and state’s attorney scan also file motions to vacate on their behalf. State officials estimate there are about 34,000 records that fall under this category state-wide. According to Gov. Pritzker’s office, a portion of cannabis sales tax revenue will be used to general funding to help people expunge these records. 

State officials estimate there are about 116,000 conviction records that fall under this category. Gov. J.B. Pritzker pardoned more than 11,000 such convictions shortly before the legalization law took effect on Jan. 1. According to state officials, the Illinois State Police have identified all records eligible for expungement and forwarded them to the Prisoner Review Board, which is responsible for verifying the accuracy of the records. Once verification is complete, the PRB will then forward records to the governor, who will consider them for pardons. Once pardons are made, the records are sent to the Attorney General’s Office, which is responsible for filing petitions for expungement in the circuit courts. 

County state’s attorneys can also fastrack this process by filing petitions to vacate or expunge cannabis offenses in circuit courts. In December, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx requested a circuit court judge expunge more than 1,000 convictions that fall under this category. Mchenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally also announced in early January that he had requested a circuit court vacate or expunge nearly 1,900 cannabis convictions

Illinois saw more than $3 million in sales on the first day, and nearly $11 million within the first five days of sales. Some dispensaries in the state are experiencing product shortages.

You cannot consume it in public; schools, parks, bars are all off limits. You can only consume it in the privacy of your home. If you rent, it will be up to landlords whether to allow it.

As with alcohol and other substances, people should not drive while intoxicated; DUI laws still apply. While there is no “breathalyzer” equivalent for cannabis, police officers conduct sobriety tests to determine whether a person is driving under the influence.

It’s also important to note that the law allows Illinois employers to keep drug-free policies, so that’s something people will need to look into for themselves.

+ According to Illinois Policy, purchases of cannabis flower or products with less than 35% THC have a 10% sales tax. Edibles and other Cannabis-infused products are subject to a 20% tax. Products with a THC concentration higher than 35% come with a 25% tax. Cities and counties in Illinois can also charge additional local sales taxes.


+ Cash only. Credit Cards are not accepted.


+ Prices of recreational marijuana depend on supply and taxes. As the Chicago Sun-Times reported “the price of a legal high is likely gonna cost you.” An eighth of an ounce or 3.5 grams can run from $37.50 to as high as $60 at some Illinois clinics. In March 2019, the website Headset found an average price of a gram of marijuana was $30.90 in California, $23.95 in Colorado and $15.33 in Washington state.

Bowl: part of pipe or bong that holds cannabis.


CBD: Cannabidiol: used for therapeutic and medical reasons but does not include chemicals to make people high.


Edibles: food or drink containing THC.


Hemp: Industrial Hemp and marijuana are both Cannabis sativa L., however, hemp has 0.3% or less THC and has no psychoactive effect. Hemp is used for everything from building materials to food to cloth. 


THC: tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient that has a psychoactive effect on the user.  


The United State Drug Enforcement Administration published a guide of Drug Slang Code Words. We don’t have room for all the terms but here are a few:

420: unofficial cannabis holiday, started in the 1970’s marking the time/day with getting high.


Atom Bomb or A-Bomb: mariijuana cigarette that also contains heroin or opium. 


Bush: marijuana mixed with cocaine.


Butter: marijuana mixed with crack.


Chicago Black, Chicago Green: DEA says these are terms for marijuana.


Dank: marijuana of the best quality.


Flower: cannabis in the natural, raw, plant state.


Ganja: another term for marijuana.


Hash: drug made from the resin of the cannabis plant, consumed by smoking.


Mary Jane: slang word for marijuana, similar terms: Aunt Jane, Jane, Mary.


Reefer: 1940’s term for marijuana cigarettes.


Skunk: strain of cannabis that is very powerful, and smells pungent, similar to that of a spray from a skunk. 

We checked the Illinois State Police Facebook page, they stress quote you can and will be arrested if you drive high. They also say a person may not use or possess cannabis in a vehicle, unless it is secured in a sealed, odor-proof, child resistant container and kept inaccessible to the driver. So if you’re involved in another traffic incident and its discovered that the cannabis is not in that sealed container, you could be cited for that as well. 

There’s no breathalyzer test for cannabis like there is for drivers impaired by alcohol. However, the Illinois State Police is researching how to test saliva for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Also, the Illinois State Police is leading a DUI Cannabis Task Force, which was formed last June. They are expected to recommend improvements on enforcement of driving under the influence of marijuana to Governor JB Pritzker and the General Assembly by July. Another state looking at saliva tests is Michigan, where recreational marijuana became legal last year. Their State Police are testing a Q-tip like swab that can be used in the mouth. 

The swab is then entered into a handheld device to indicate within 5 minutes if a person is positive or negative for cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamines, opiates and other drugs. But according to MLive, defense attorneys say the tests have issues because while some of the swabs turned up positive for THC, a blood test later did not have the same results. So right now, the saliva test is still in the pilot program stage.

As it stands, cannabis businesses must operate on a cash-only basis, because federally regulated banks and credit card companies don’t want to get involved, according to Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs.

In an interview on The 21st show, Frerichs said banks are worried that if they provide banking services to legal cannabis businesses, they might lose their federal charter and be prosecuted by the federal Department of Justice, since cannabis remains illegal at the federal level. A similar policy applies to the major credit card companies. 

“I think the risk is low, but the consequences would be very severe,” Frerichs said. “That’s why we’ve been calling for the last 3-plus years on the Trump administration to clarify that they’re not going to go after banks or credit card companies that work with legitimate legal cannabis businesses.”

Frerichs said he supports a bill in Congress that would allow banks to serve cannabis businesses that are recognized as legal in their states.

The SAFE Banking Act passed the U.S. House with bipartisan support last September, but Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked a vote on the bill in his chamber, Frerichs said.

Legalization doesn’t mean the black market for weed will disappear overnight. 

Other states that moved to legalize recreational cannabis ahead of Illinois have seen mixed results. 

In California, which began recreational sales on Jan. 1, 2018, an estimated 80% of cannabis sales remain on the black market, which includes any businesses not licensed by the state government, said KPBS reporter Andrew Bowen in an interview on The 21st. That includes drug dealers, unlicensed delivery services and dispensaries without a retail license.

The black market is also likely to thrive in areas where access to legal recreational cannabis is low, such as in cities that have banned sales, Bowen said.

“Until it becomes easier, more convenient and cheaper for consumers to purchase products from a licensed dispensary, the black market activity will remain strong,” said Eli McVey, data researcher for Marijuana Business Daily, speaking on The 21st show.

McVey said Colorado has been the model for how to get rid of black market activity.

“We don’t have strict caps on the number of dispensaries or the number of grow operations in the state,” McVey said. “So you have competition… to provide better selection, better-quality product, lower prices to consumers, and all that works in concert to drive black market activity out of the state.”

The most important point to make with kids is that legal does not equal safe, said Jim Scarpace, executive director of Gateway Foundation in Aurora and Joliet, in an interview on The 21st show. 

Whitney Greger with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District said scare tactics don’t work to keep kids from doing drugs. Instead, parents, caregivers and other adults should be prepared to have an honest conversation based on the facts.

“I think that kids have a very keen eye for when someone is lying to them or not being truthful, Greger said. “I think it’s really important to just have an open, honest conversation, setting parameters, clear expectations and having consistent discipline actions if that’s necessary.”

Greger said kids are going to make their own decisions, “so we just have to be sure that we’re giving them the best information possible and really trusting that they’ll make the right decisions for themselves.”

Scarpace also recommends parents initiate the conversation sooner rather than later. 

“Say, ‘you know, marijuana has become legal for individuals over age 21. It’s still illegal if you’re under age 21 and there’s good reason for that,’” he said. “Talk to them about how your brain is still developing, talk about the risks of cannabis use disorder, talk about how some people, even in adulthood, can develop disorders.”

The most important thing for people to understand is that there’s a variety of different types of cannabis products with different levels of THC, said Whitney Greger, health education program coordinator with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, in an interview on The 21st show.

“In states that have legalized, they’ve seen a lot of accidental overdose” involving edibles,” Greger said. People may purchase a candy bar without realizing that one piece is an entire serving, and they may eat the whole thing and accidentally overdose and end up hospitalized.

“Understand that higher THC potency products are going to have a more intense effect (and) pay attention to your body and how it’s making (you) feel,” she said. 

To avoid the risk of children accidentally consuming what appears to be regular candy or chocolate (but is actually a cannabis product), Jim Scarpace with Gateway Foundation advises adults to store the products away safely. 

Cannabis use disorder is a progress illness, according to the American Psychiatric Association, said Jim Scarpace, executive director of Gateway Foundation in Aurora and Joliet, in an interview on The 21st show

“When you start to see that you’re starting to rely on the substance in order to function, or you’re continuing to use the substance despite negative consequences, which can include difficulties in school, at work, in relationships, or legal consequences, those are usually pretty tell-tale signs that this has now risen to a disorder” and that you should seek help, said Scarpace.