At 57 years old, Bradley Mayor Pro Tem Mike Watson is at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation.
He has witnessed so many changes to society that he can’t even begin to recount all of them.
One he did not envision as he walked across the graduation stage in spring 1980 was one day it would be legal to smoke marijuana within Bradley. But as the calendar flipped and the newest version of the “Roarin’ 20s” begins, this is the place Watson finds himself.
As the leader of Bradley, the community which is the retail hub of Kankakee County, Watson also has opened the village’s doors to the prospect of it becoming home for a retail store where adults can purchase marijuana.
Illinois has entered into the world where pot can be consumed in much of the same manner as someone can consume a bottle of ice-cold Heineken.
“It’s a reality. The state has made this law. There will be repercussions from it,” Watson said.
What the repercussions will be depends, of course, on how responsible adults are as they consume the legally purchased drug.
The drug will be available to consume by anyone age 21 and older, just as alcohol. However, unlike alcohol, marijuana can only be consumed in a private residence or at a licensed designated location.
“Basically, all we have done as a village is clear the way for an application if someone wants to come to Bradley” to operate a pot dispensary, Watson said. “I don’t know who will win Kankakee County’s [dispensary] application, but the state has cleared the way for it.”
Some Kankakee County municipalities already have put in place impact fees structures. No governmental body has any way of knowing how much revenue will be gained through local sales, but every little bit of cash helps.
“We are all scrambling for resources and this is now a legal activity,” Watson said. “I understand people being highly opposed to this, but we didn’t make the law. The battle can still be fought, but that fight need to be fought in Springfield.”
While recreational marijuana sales and consumption have been greeted with applause by many, there are those who have great concerns.
Currently, the state has 37 licensed dispensaries, the nearest to Kankakee County being those in Joliet, Romeoville and Champaign.
Count Theodis Pace, president of the Kankakee County branch of the NAACP, among those having strong concerns.
Chief among Pace’s concerns is the impact pot consumption will have on those seeking employment or public housing. He worries many people will think employers will no longer test for drugs as a factor in employment. The testing, of course, will continue.
Municipalities that have OK’d marijuana sales: Bradley, Kankakee and Manteno (additional sales tax only)
“That worries me. I’m not sure all people realize that. I believe this will impact minorities more than other parts of the community,” he said.
In a news release from Pace, he wrote “people of color will be disproportionately targeted and lose their jobs or places to live.”
Pace suggested implementation of formal training programs about the social resources that are available.
“People have been smoking marijuana for years, and they’re not going to stop,” Pace wrote. “However, we need to emphasize saying NO to marijuana before we see an increase in usage. People are going to think it’s OK [to] smoke weed all weekend and go to work on Monday, only to be surprised by a random drug test and lose their jobs.”
Pace is particularly concerned with marijuana’s impact on the area’s youth.
“Young people need to think about whether they’re jeopardizing their future by smoking marijuana. There will be consequences with the legalization of marijuana in Illinois.”
GOVERNING FOR ALL
Tyler Tall Sr., a Kankakee 5th Ward alderman and chairman of city council’s Ordinance Committee, has been working to hammer out legislation as to how Kankakee can use potential sales taxes if Kankakee eventually sites a marijuana retail site.
To date, that task has been one of great debate on the council.
In what fund eventual marijuana sales tax money may land, Tall said this issue is not about his personal beliefs regarding pot consumption.
“I understand all the positions people have taken on this. But I’m governing for all. I’m charged with making the best choices for all,” the alderman said. “All we are doing is giving people the opportunity to site a retail shop in Kankakee if the state says we can. The state has said this is now legal, not Kankakee.”
Like many others, Tall doesn’t believe legal pot won’t lead to increased usage.
“I certainly don’t see this great rush of people smoking marijuana. There will be no site selling here and you can’t smoke openly. Right now, all we [city] are saying is ‘These are the areas were it can be sold.’ The only other control we’ll have is where our portion of the money can go.”
FOCUS ON SERIOUS CRIMES
Kankakee 7th Ward Alderman Fred Tetter said the state’s relaxation regarding marijuana will allow society to focus on more serious crimes.
“We’re talking about something which has been used by perhaps half the adult population,” Tetter said.
“The revenue is a big factor. We will see how this goes. Right now we have no way of knowing how much revenue there will be,” Tetter said.
If the first day is any indication, money from sales of weed could be significant. Through the first 24 hours of sales, the state sold $3.2 million of recreational pot.
It’s those figures which make communities interested in opening their doors to potential retailers.
Tetter does have concerns some people may not be aware that a drug-free workplace includes the prohibition of marijuana.
“That means you can’t come to work under the influence of marijuana anymore than you can come to work intoxicated with alcohol,” he said.
Chris Koerner, director of the Kankakee Area Metropolitan Enforcement Group, the combined police unit which focuses on drugs and gang activities, is concerned with traffic accidents and potential fatalities associated with them.
And like with other substances, the consumption works its way down to younger — underage — consumers.
“You have to asked yourself: Do you want your kids smoking marijuana? The answer is no. Then you have to ask ‘Then why are we legalizing it?’ There is no question there will be increased availability for minors.
“And this is not your grandparents marijuana,” he said referring to its THC (compound in the plant most commonly associated with getting a user intoxicated) level.
“I’m obviously opposed to this. We will work through it. I believe cannabis is a gateway drug. We will still make arrest for cannabis-related offenses, but our focus will change.”