Good planning for legalized pot

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Along the border, Illinois marijuana decision will pose many issues.

THIS MAY BE the question of the year once Illinois fully legalizes recreational marijuana: Will there be a traffic jam solid on I-90 all the way from Madison to the state line?

Make no mistake, there's precedent. Butter or oleo? Cheaper liquor and cigarettes? Legal lottery? Fireworks? Any time Wisconsin law and Illinois law deviate substantially, just count out-of-state license plates flowing across the border.

It can take other forms as well, for example, such as the competetive rush over tribal casino gambling in Wisconsin and riverboat gambling in Illinois. Or, today, whether a Ho-Chunk casino might materialize in Beloit before a casino is built in Rockford, since Illinois is now backing legislation for a Rockford license.

HERE IN THE Stateline Area, Ground Zero for pot almost certainly will be in South Beloit.

Investors looking to make a bundle quickly will realize the South Beloit exit right at the state line offers a very lucrative location to sell both to Illinois residents and Wisconsinites in search of weed.

In fact, according to South Beloit Mayor Ted Rehl, inquiries already are being fielded about potential pot businesses.

That won't be cheap. A Beloit Daily News survey into how the new Illinois law will work found that setting up a pot business is expensive. It will cost $100,000 for a permit application fee. Future dispensaries would need to pay a business development fee of either five percent of total annual sales of $750,000 in revenue, and no less than $250,000. To start, only existing licensed medical cannabis cultivation facilities can grow the plant. Later, smaller grow operations can apply to cultivate 5,000-square-feet of property.

Still, expect a gold rush around the border because there's a lot of money to be made in a legal private-sector venture.

COUNTIES AND CITIES will have much to gain as well, because legal pot stores are expected to generate strong tax revenues. So while the law will allow counties and municipalities to ban the weed shops, most public officials are likely to choose the money.

The state, of course, stands to rake in the most. That's why Illinois is taking this step in the first place. Illinois is broke. If Illinois were a business or a household, it would be in bankruptcy court. Even government, though, eventually must pay its bills, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker along with the Democrat-controlled legislature is betting heavily on consumers' desire to toke up.

There are the obvious questions: What about the morality? What about impaired drivers? What about the potential for damage to people and families from drug use?

ALL GOOD QUESTIONS, and the truth is there may not be many good answers. As for morality, that's an individual thing. Like gambling. People with moral objections can stay away. That doesn't grant objectors the right to make moral decisions about legal products for others in a free country.

Impaired driving will be a challenge for law enforcement on both sides of the border, and we encourage police to be watchful and strict. There's an issue, though. Breath and blood tests are good at detecting alcohol impairment. Any kind of drug is a tougher nut to crack. Police and prosecutors will be challenged to develop policies and practices that work.

Damage to individuals and families is not an insignificant consideration, nor is there an easy answer. With alcohol, plenty of people can have a drink without becoming a drunk. Likewise, we're sure, plenty of people can use marijuana without becoming a drug addict. It would be foolish, though, to assume more widespread availability of cannabis will have no adverse social impacts.

NEXT JANUARY 1, unless Pritzker goes in a completely unexpected direction, legalized recreational marijuana will come to the Stateline Area.

That means the time to plan is now, on both sides of the border.

On one side, that involves figuring out how to manage what will become a new industry.

On the other, it means how to cope with easy access to pot.

There's no point in preaching or wringing hands. Good planning is required.

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