Heather Steans

Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, speaks on the Senate floor May 29 in Springfield urging passage of a bill to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana in Illinois. The bill passed and was signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Now, there are unintended consequences of the legislation that are likely to be addressed in a trailer bill during the upcoming fall veto session.

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SPRINGFIELD — Some of the lead negotiators of the law to legalize adult-use marijuana in Illinois are seeking to provide clarity on a provision that gives local municipalities control over which facilities, if any, would be authorized to allow cannabis consumption.

The topic is at the top of the discussion list for potential follow-up legislation, commonly referred to as a trailer bill, which could be heard when the General Assembly returns for veto session in late October, the original bill’s Senate sponsor said.

That senator is Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat who said it is “certainly not the intent” of House Bill 1438, the bill which legalized adult-use marijuana, to allow consumption at public places such as restaurants.

“If we need any clarification to make that crystal clear, we will do that,” Steans said during a phone interview. “We know we’ll be doing something along those lines, most likely.”

While the bill prohibits “smoking cannabis in any place where smoking is prohibited under the Smoke Free Illinois Act,” mitigating language appears in Section 55-25 of the more than 600-page bill.

It reads: “A unit of local government … may regulate the on-premises consumption of cannabis at or in a cannabis business establishment within its jurisdiction in a manner consistent with this Act. A cannabis business establishment or other entity authorized or permitted by a unit of local government to allow on-site consumption shall not be deemed a public place within the meaning of the Smoke Free Illinois Act.”

That language means local municipalities have the right to exempt certain facilities from the Smoke Free Illinois Act, which otherwise bans smoking in virtually all public places.

Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell, who was one of the leading forces in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration in negotiating the bill, said the local control over social use language was put in place to prevent “de facto prohibition” of cannabis consumption for apartment dwellers who, if their landlord banned consumption, would conceivably have no place to legally partake.

“We wanted to leave room in the bill for locals to deal with social consumption as they saw fit,” Mitchell said in a phone interview. “I think the concern from a lot of folks was that, especially in poor areas, areas with more rental housing which are going to be disproportionately people of color, for example, if that housing, by the legal power of the landlord, bans the ability to consume cannabis on premises, you can end up with a de facto prohibition for some of those folks.”

While the bill clearly defines a cannabis business establishment as any licensed “cultivation center, craft grower, processing organization, dispensing organization, or transporting organization,” exactly which other entities a local government can exempt from the Smoke Free Illinois Act is not clearly defined.

Mitchell said discussions of public use generally revolved around the establishment of facilities similar to hookah bars or cigar lounges, which have legal exemptions in the Smoke Free Illinois Act to allow for tobacco consumption on their premises.

“That’s the context in which I’ve seen it contemplated. The restaurant context isn’t one that came up,” he said. “But I imagine with the Smoke Free Illinois Act, that would probably be more problematic.”

Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican who supported the bill, recalled discussions of allowing social consumption at private clubs or licensed cannabis facilities, but not public facilities such as restaurants.

“There’s a separate prohibition that is blanketed throughout the law which says that use and consumption cannot occur in public or in public places,” he said in a phone interview. “So if you’re operating a restaurant, that’s a public place, and the law would prohibit that.”

Steans said she remembered discussions of allowing cannabis use at certain licensed facilities as well, but trailer bill discussions could add some clarity to the matter.  

“We want to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that the law reads exactly the way we want it to,” she said.

Steans, Mitchell and Barickman were in general agreement that “the law is the law,” and any other language involved in a trailer bill would be mostly technical in nature. For Mitchell, that means “not relitigating” issues already decided in the initial passage of the bill.

The deputy governor added industry concerns regarding advanced licenses for some existing medicinal marijuana dispensaries were clearly addressed in existing legislation. Mitchell also said concerns raised by municipalities regarding the enforcement of home-grown marijuana plants, which medicinal patients are legally allowed to possess, were also unlikely to be addressed in a trailer bill.

“What we have said to everyone is that the trailer bill for veto is going to be highly technical stuff that needs to change in order to ensure a smooth roll into January 1, (2020). It is not a forum to relitigate issues on which folks lost out negotiations,” he said.