Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson says marijuana legalization in Illinois will not change how his office enforces Wisconsin’s marijuana laws.
“That state line now is a significant division between legal marijuana and illegal marijuana,” Knudson said.
The Illinois Legislature in May voted to allow possession and sales of recreational marijuana. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign the bill into law this week.
Illinois, now the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana, would be the first state to do so through the Legislature. All other states approved legalizing marijuana through voter referendum.
Only medical dispensaries in Illinois would be permitted to grow marijuana once the law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020. Craft growers may apply for licenses next year, according to the Chicago Tribune, and medical dispensaries and new retail stores would be able to sell it with a license.
In an interview with The Gazette, Knudson, who is one of six Wisconsin sheriffs serving counties bordering Illinois, said he “absolutely” believes more marijuana will flow into Rock County after Jan. 1.
Knudson said he wasn’t “terribly surprised” Illinois marched forward with legalization—but he said it likely will lead to a rise in arrests and marijuana use while driving in Rock County, which will cause highway safety issues and boost the office’s enforcement load.
While already a priority, Knudson said detecting drugged driving will become a more pressing “training priority” in the wake of legalization. That could mean the office would seek to train more deputies to be able to determine if a motorist is driving under the influence of marijuana, Knudson said.
Still, the office’s approach to marijuana largely will be unchanged after Jan. 1, Knudson said.
“Until statutory changes (in Wisconsin) take place, I don’t anticipate a huge difference in the way we would investigate driving under the influence cases, whether it be marijuana or alcohol,” Knudson said. “... Just because it’s now legal on the other side of the line doesn’t change anything on this side of the line.”
Knudson said the office does not plan to set up marijuana checkpoints unless there is a change in Wisconsin statute, which prohibits police from stopping motorists without probable cause.
At the Rock County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting Thursday, Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski said legal recreational marijuana in Illinois will have “a large impact.” He said the department is working with community service providers to schedule sessions next month to educate the public.
“There’s a lot of discussion in Wisconsin on similar lines. ... I think it’s also another issue that our public at large does not know very much about, does not understand,” Zibolski said at the meeting.
Walworth County Sheriff Kurt Picknell was unavailable for an interview. In a statement, he raised concerns about the new law and forwarded a study to The Gazette from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally-funded program accused of using incorrect and misleading data in reports.
“I am concerned about (legal marijuana) because of its proximity to the state and Walworth County,” Picknell said in the statement. “We will continue to address this issue through enforcement and education similar to other bordering states that have not adopted legalizing marijuana within the United States.”
Knudson said its unknown if legalization across the border will require more personnel at the Rock County Sheriff’s Office. He said the office will monitor the workload in early 2020 to determine if more resources are needed, such as additional staff.
“There will be certainly an increase on these types of cases. But I think we’re going to have to see how big that increase is before we can look at that sort of extreme step,” Knudson said.
Illinois’ move to legalize marijuana comes after nearly 1 million Wisconsin residents supported legalizing marijuana in some capacity on advisory referendums in 16 counties and two cities in November. In Rock County, 69% of voters supported legalizing recreational marijuana.