BELOIT - With the sweep of a pen Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is set to legalize recreational cannabis, making the state line that divides this community a bright barrier when it comes to drug policy.
Local municipalities are preparing for the legalization in Illinois and all that comes with it, from public safety concerns by law enforcement to local regulation by area politicians.
The legislation that was recently passed by the Illinois Legislature is set to take effect on Jan. 1 if Pritzker signs it into law - something the first-term governor has signaled he will do in the coming weeks.
South Beloit is in a "unique" geographic position with the impending legalization, Mayor Ted Rehl acknowledges.
Although the South Beloit City Council has yet to discuss the issue, Rehl said the city has already had inquiries from city businesses looking to learn more about applying for a license.
"We have to be very careful in how we proceed," Rehl said. "It's a polarizing issue, but the city is going to have to try and be realistic given our geographical position. You can frame it any way you want, but it's going to be a revenue generator for us."
Rehl said the council will discuss the impending law change at its next meeting on June 17.
South Beloit Police Chief Adam Truman said the department would follow state guidelines related to legalization, adding he hoped revenue would be generated for small communities across the state.
"Personally, I am not opposed to it," Truman said. "We will have training prior to Jan. 1 and obviously our biggest concern would be people driving under the influence."
Critics of the nationwide legalization effort say there's not a definitive field test for cannabis as compared to impaired driving via alcohol, and that's a huge issue for Rockton Police Chief Stephen Dickson.
Dickson called the Illinois legislation "a bad law," and slammed state lawmakers for hurriedly rushing the bill through the Legislature.
Dickson said the state was setting itself up for failure.
"We don't know how it's going to complicate enforcement for us," Dickson said. "I am very disappointed in the whole effort. We knew it was going to happen, we just hoped to be taken more seriously on lessons learned from Colorado and Washington and the things that happened there."
Those lessons he said, and increases in vehicle crashes and fatalities, could soon follow across Illinois.
According to a report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Strategic Intelligence Unit, Colorado has seen a doubling of traffic-related deaths from 2013 when it was legalized to 2017, from 55 deaths in 2013 to 138 deaths in 2017. The report claims emergency department visits related to cannabis use increased 52 percent from 2012 to 2016, along with hospitalizations related to cannabis increasing 148 percent from 6,305 in 2011 to 11,439 in 2014.
Rock County Sheriff's Office Cpt. of Patrol Jude Maurer said the change in legalization in Illinois won't directly change enforcement protocols across the border, but said deputies would need to be aware of the increase in Wisconsin residents heading to communities like South Beloit and Rockford to purchase cannabis.
"It's really about awareness for us and being aware of the availability of marijuana," Maurer said. "It really doesn't change anything for us or their approach towards enforcement."
Maurer said that after Rock County voters approved an advisory referendum supporting cannabis legalization on Nov. 6, the sheriff's office developed an internal memo regarding the possible impact of future legalization.
Until there's a definitive scientific test that could determine whether or not a person had been driving under the influence of cannabis, Maurer said authorities would continue to rely on existing impaired driving standards that cover suspected narcotic use.
Rockton Village President Dale Adams said the village is conferring with legal counsel and is in the process of drafting policy to prepare for legalization.
"There are still a lot of questions we have about how the law is going to shake out," Adams said. "We know that licenses are issued by the state and not locally, but there's zoning control at the local level and we think that's our little edge."
Adams said he attended this year's International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Las Vegas and for the first time saw cannabis-related business booths advertising setting up legal pot shops. Overall, Adams said, village trustees appeared to be in support of what comes with legalization but stressed no formal talks had taken place.
"We hope we can get it worked out and take this with a measured approach," Adams said.
In Roscoe, Village Administrator Scott Sanders said the village is working on ordinance changes to address "location and zoning issues" tied to the legislation. He said the village was in the process of reviewing the final version of the bill.
"We intend to have all local ordinance adopted well in advance of (Jan. 1)," Sanders said.
Winnebago County Sheriff's Office Superintendent Bob Redmond said the department is gathering information on the legislation, as well as developing policy and training for deputies.
"We will be working closely with the States Attorney's Office for research as well as the Illinois Law Enforcement training and standards board for guidance," Redmond said.