More than 250 new laws go into effect in Illinois with the new year. Some of the most talked about are the laws concerning recreational use of marijuana.
The passage of HB 1438 means that as of January 1, it will be legal to purchase and use marijuana in the state of Illinois for adults over the age of 21. This makes Illinois the 11th state to officially legalize recreational marijuana use.
It’s important to note that use of marijuana in public places is still prohibited for all people. That means no smoking in bars, restaurants, public parks, or any other public place, whether use of the drug is medicinal or recreational.
Medical Use of Marijuana vs. Recreational Use
There are a few differences between how recreational users of the drug are allowed to interact with marijuana compared to registered medicinal marijuana users.
First, only medical marijuana patients are legally allowed to grow marijuana plants in their home. The 65,000+ people currently registered as medical marijuana patients in the state are allowed to grow up to five plants per household, regardless of how many registered marijuana using patients live in the home.
Recreational users are not allowed to grow any amount of the drug for any reason, an issue that was highly contested during the legalization process. Because it was a hang-up for lawmakers, however, the choice was to keep at-home marijuana grow rooms illegal unless the owner was a registered medical marijuana user.
Second, medical marijuana users may now be able to use marijuana at school. A Medical Cannabis Pilot Program will provide for dispensation of the drug to students who are registered medical marijuana users by school nurses or administrators. Though this was a task that only parents could perform in the past, SB 455 also allows for a student to self-administer their own marijuana or other medications at school as long as they are supervised by a school nurse or administrator.
Senator Cristina Castro was the chief sponsor of the bill. In a statement, she said: “Ideally, the parents of these students would provide the medications, but it’s often the case that the parents are unable to make it to the school due to other commitments. By giving school nurses the ability to administer these important medications, we can ensure that students across Illinois are getting the proper treatment they require.”
Supply and Demand for Marijuana in Illinois
The 55 marijuana dispensaries across Illinois were already struggling to keep up with the demand for marijuana created by the 65,000+ registered medical marijuana users in the state. Some dispensaries report selling out within minutes of making product available on the shelves and struggling to maintain enough grow rooms to produce the plants necessary to keep current customers happy, given the slow grow cycle of the plant.
The problem began when the rules for application for medical marijuana patient status loosened in 2018. As it became easier to register as a medical marijuana user in Illinois, the demand for the drug grew to the point that dispensaries were struggling to keep up.
Compounding the problem is the fact that, of the 55 dispensaries, many are currently serving only medicinal marijuana users. This is not scheduled to change despite the influx of recreational users. Even if a dispensary officially serves recreational users, medical marijuana patients have first dibs on diminishing product. This means that as supplies dwindle, recreational marijuana users will still be unable to legally purchase the drug at a dispensary.
Though medical marijuana users are allowed to grow as many as five plants to help them manage the potential issue of sold-out product in the dispensaries, plants have a grow cycle of three to four months and often do not produce very much, especially if the grower is unfamiliar with how to care for the plant. This means that many rely on the dispensaries for their marijuana, leaving less for recreational users. It also means a hole in the market that will likely be filled with black market marijuana sales.
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Black Market Marijuana Sales
The primary problem with black market sales of marijuana is the same issue that plagues all substances sold on the black market: lack of quality control. With no industry standards governing how the product is grown, transported, or sold, consumers don’t truly know what they are buying.
Though some may question how much a drug like marijuana, primarily sold in plant form, can be tampered with, the fact is that the quality of marijuana sold on the black market is generally considered to be subpar compared to the marijuana plants sold in a dispensary. Not only are pesticides and other chemicals more likely to be used in the growth of black market marijuana plants, there is no forum for complaint if the product is underweight, lacks potency, or otherwise fails to provide the effect that consumers are looking for.
While many support the idea of legalization of marijuana because they believe it will eliminate the street drug market and therefore lower crime, the fact is that black market sales of marijuana flourish in states where the drug is legal. This is often because the legal supply can’t keep up and taxes force a high price point on the product.
This means that legalizing marijuana recreationally leads to higher rates of use of the drug as well as increased rates of criminal activity involving the sales of marijuana. This in turn increases the burden on police and the court systems despite the fact that users of the drug are less likely to be charged for marijuana-associated choices.
Do Increased Rates of Marijuana Use Mean Increased Rates of Marijuana Addiction?
One of the arguments against the legalization of recreational marijuana is the notion that easier access to the drug will result in higher rates of marijuana use among adults and teens.
This hasn’t exactly been the case. In states where marijuana has been legalized recreationally, there has not necessarily been a hike in the number of adult or teen users of the drug, but there has been a noticeable increase in problematic use of marijuana.
What does that mean? It means that though there may be some people who will use marijuana regularly only because it is now legally available, it is not a statistically significant number as far as we know. It also means that legalization has increased access to the drug for those who were already using it or prone to use. Heavy, or problematic, use has risen by as much as 25 percent and 26 percent among adults and teens respectively, according to a study done by NYU Langone Health/NYU School of Medicine and reported in Science Daily.
Magdalena Cerdá, DrPH, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Opioid Epidemiology and Policy in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health, was the study’s lead author. She said: “There are, indeed, important social benefits that legalizing marijuana can provide, particularly around issues of equity in criminal justice. Our findings suggest that as more states move toward legalizing marijuana for recreational use, we also need to think about investing in substance use prevention and treatment to prevent unintended harms — particularly among adolescents.”
Getting Treatment for Marijuana Addiction
Marijuana has always been a highly addictive drug, whether used medicinally or for recreational purposes. Over time, as plants have been cultivated and grown specifically to increase their THC content with the goal of creating a more potent high, the addictive nature of the drug has increased significantly.
The marijuana sold in dispensaries and on the street today is not the same plant that was sold decades ago. Users should be cautious, especially if they are not used to the drug.
It is important to note that:
- Use of marijuana should not be mixed with use of other substances, including alcohol, prescription medications, or over-the-counter medications.
- Driving after using marijuana can be deadly. Its use slows the response time and awareness of drivers, making safe driving an impossibility while high.
- It is still possible to be arrested for possession or use of marijuana, depending on the amount of the drug found in your possession or where you use the drug. Remember, it is still illegal to use the drug in public places.
- Just like alcohol and prescription painkillers, though marijuana is legal for recreational use in Illinois, it is still highly addictive. Regular use can lead to a psychological addiction as well as a physical dependence on the drug, requiring treatment in order to completely and wholly stop use of the substance safely and for the long term.
Marijuana use disorders, ranging from binge use issues to daily and/or heavy use problems and addiction, are treatable. A comprehensive addiction treatment program can help to provide the support necessary to stop using the drug safely, navigate marijuana detox, and create a new life that isn’t based on getting and staying high.
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