Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz says she’s concerned about how legalization could impact the juveniles she works with on a daily basis. She’s also concerned about how the state will address cannabis impaired driving.
The decriminalization of low-level cannabis possession in 2016 affected the number of cases her office prosecutes.
This story is part of a weeklong series from Illinois public radio stations focusing on the potential impact of marijuana legalization.
“We certainly have seen a decrease in the amount of cannabis cases that we prosecute,” Rietz said. “What we deal with on the criminal side is really the large-scale sale distribution of cannabis. And oftentimes, that occurs in conjunction with other crimes.”
Rietz said she doesn’t know whether or not legalizing recreational cannabis is going to affect the black market sale of marijuana.
“I think that's a big question,” Rietz said. “Are people going to turn from buying cannabis in an illegal way to going to the cannabis store where the prices are going to be higher? I think there will be people who do that, but those people we're already not prosecuting.”
Rietz said she’s concerned about juveniles using the drug. If recreational cannabis becomes a reality in Illinois, she’s preparing a plan to handle the juvenile delinquency caseload.
“I am in delinquency court almost on a daily basis,” Rietz said. “We see juveniles under 18 who are committing serious offenses who admit to smoking cannabis almost on a daily basis that affects their decision-making (and) that affects their coping skills.”
She said there should be a focus on treatment and ways to educate young people about drug abuse.
Rietz said she'd like to see a portion of any revenue generated from recreational cannabis sales used to fund substance use treatment programs.
“I think that would be a great idea,” Rietz said. “Because the resources for substance abuse treatment specifically for juveniles is limited.”
Rietz takes a measured approach to her personal feelings about legalization.
“I personally don't have an issue with adults who can make decisions for themselves who want to use cannabis in their living rooms,” Rietz said. “I have concern about safety on our roadways, and I think that we are working with the legislature on addressing those issues as well.”
Rietz said there needs to be funding to train officers to detect impairments associated with cannabis use.
“The field sobriety tests that one does when there's a concern about alcohol use are different from the tests to detect cannabis use,” Rietz explained. “And there are only in the entire state of Illinois 50 police officers who are certified to do those tests. In Champaign County, we have one. So that's a safety issue and a funding issue that we need to address before we can move forward.”