Green state: How has legalization of marijuana in Illinois impacted crime in the Quad Cities?

Published: Jan. 28, 2021 at 10:20 PM CST
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(KWQC) - One year ago, the legalization of recreational marijuana made its debut in Illinois. For the Quad Cities, it creates unique circumstances with different laws across the Mississippi River.

TV6 checked in with law enforcement to see how the legalization has impacted crime in the area.

In Rock Island County, Sheriff Gerry Bustos said the impact has been minimal.

“It really didn’t create much difference for us because we didn’t allow that to become part of our major focus before that,” he said. “I’ve heard that argument that by allowing it to, to be legalized that crime would actually go down, and I don’t think that’s true at all. I think that was just an argument to try and get it over the legislation, but no, I don’t think it’s at any impact on crime statistics are good or bad.”

Bustos said there have been roughly 80 cases of some form of a citation issued for low-level, minor circumstances. They also minimized low-level visits to the jail before legalization.

“Years ago, we decided that those type of low-level cannabis arrests, we didn’t even want ‘em coming in our back door,” he said. “Again, because it just took up resources. That just wasn’t necessary. The penalty for the crime itself was so minimal it didn’t justify them coming to the county jail, so we stopped a long time ago. Those user amounts.”

Across the Mississippi River, Scott County hasn’t seen much of a change, either.

“Even though Illinois borders Scott County, we have not seen a significant difference from the law change that Illinois enacted a year ago,” Sheriff Tim Lane said.

Lane’s initial concerns stemmed from impacts he said he saw following the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado years ago. Those impacts included large shipments coming in from Colorado dispensaries.

“They were still marked as being a state sale from Colorado, and a lot of them were in the area of $20,000 shipments and they were coming in to supply the black market within Iowa and that caused a lot of concern,” he said.

With legalization being closer to home, concerns were still there, Lane said. However, they haven’t seen impacts from this past year, he added.

“This year is not a very good year to really judge, anything let alone changes in the law, but, like I had said before, I am happy that the state of Iowa has not chosen to go down this road.” Lane said. “Having it closer than Colorado right across the river. That gave us reason to be concerned that it would be much easier to supply our black market, and we have not seen at this point that that’s actually happening.”

Lane said they believe marijuana is coming into Scott County from Illinois, but they do not see large amounts.

“Because it has largely been sold in small quantities. We have not noticed any large shipments coming into the state. And when they legalized marijuana in Illinois. I made the statement that we would not be watching the bridges, we would not have checkpoints. And we have not done that,” he said, “while we haven’t seen much of a negative impact at the same time, we haven’t seen much of a positive.”

Once recreational use became legal, minor cannabis offenses were eligible for expungement. TV6 checked in with Rock Island County State’s Attorney Dora Villarreal and Rock Island County Circuit Clerk Tammy Weikert about expungement in the county.

Both said they are still awaiting the mass expungement petition from the state attorney general’s office.

“We are one of a handful of counties who are still anxiously awaiting for them to be filed,” Weikert said Jan. 12 in an email to TV6.

On the legislative side, Illinois’ Restore, Reinvest, and Renew (R3) program grant was built into the legalization. The grants fund programs in civil legal aid, economic development, reentry, violence prevention, and youth development. The state’s Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) uses revenue from cannabis sales to organizations to help communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.

Earlier this month, ICJIA announced 80 organizations would receive grants totaling $31.5 million.

The MLK Center in Rock Island was among the recipients. The $245,577 they received will fund a partnership with YWCA, Arrowhead Youth and Family Services, Rise Up Project, Child Abuse Council, and Spring Forward. The goal is to increase protective factors and decrease risk factors in children in Rock Island’s R3 zones from birth to 18 years old.

In a release, the MLK center said details and program logistics are currently being discussed, with an anticipated rollout this year.

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