Illinois pot proposal worries Wisconsin authorities

Illinois pot proposal worries Wisconsin authorities

Wisconsin’s southern neighbor is considering legalizing recreational marijuana, and law enforcement along the state border say it could mean problems for the state.

Two Illinois lawmakers introduced a proposal that would allow people 21 and older to possess, grow or buy up to an ounce of marijuana. It would also allow businesses to sell marijuana products subject to regulation.

Beloit police said if the legislation moves forward, it could cause several problems for the city and other cities that are right on the state line.

“You’re going to have … Wisconsin residents going into Illinois, smoking marijuana, and then coming back and driving impaired,” Lt. John Kaltenbrun said. “We’re highly concerned about what’s going to happen to those who are just driving on the road and unexpectedly get hit, hurt, killed as a result of someone going down to Illinois and then trying to return when they shouldn’t be driving.”

Officials said marijuana use is a prevalent issue in the community and can often lead to violent crimes.

“We are making arrests probably daily on patrol with people having it during traffic stops or on their person when we have contact with them,” Capt. Todd Christiansen, with the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, said. “We’ve had cases where people have gone out to buy it, got ripped off and that’s led to physical confrontations and sometimes with weapons involved.”

Kaltenbrun said making the drug more accessible so close to Wisconsin could lead to more violence.

“When you legalize it, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to stop some of these other sellers, and that’s where I think the problem comes in,” he said. “Is it going to lead to additional violence? Whenever you’re selling drugs, there’s that competition and it boils down to money. And is it something that would rise to a violent level?”

Christiansen said even if Illinois legalizes recreational marijuana, it wouldn’t affect how the sheriff’s office enforces drug laws.

“I think you might see more people coming up from Illinois and not realizing they had it on their person and crossing the state line and being in that situation where it’s legal two blocks south of here, and now you’re in Wisconsin and it’s not legal,” he said. “We will continue to enforce it like we have been. It’s illegal to possess.”

According to The Associated Press , the Illinois lawmakers who proposed the legislation say it could help generate $350 to $700 million in new tax revenue, which would help cover the state’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit. The sponsors said they just wanted to start a conversation but don’t plan on moving forward with any legislation this session.

The Beloit Police Department said it wouldn’t look at making any changes to its drug enforcement unless the proposal moves forward.