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Local

Marijuana legalization 'pretty uneventful so far' for police

In a jar, some of the product that was available at Verilife in Ottawa is seen.
In a jar, some of the product that was available at Verilife in Ottawa is seen.

The first six days of recreational marijuana legalization haven't led to a drastic change for law enforcement officers just yet.

In fact, for many, the first weekend passed like any other.

"It's been pretty uneventful so far," said La Salle Police Chief Robert Uranich.

Uranich said there wasn't so much as a call to complain about the smell, but expects those will come as it's the sort of call they received anyway prior to legalization.

Other police departments also remained quiet regarding marijuana-related incidents, including the Ottawa Police Department.

Ottawa Police Chief Brent Roalson said the department hadn't had any marijuana related-incidents, which he said may be due to the heightened awareness of the public as it was recently legalized. Still, he's not expecting a "drastic increase" in incidents, such as DUIs, in the coming months.

Ottawa police were on scene at the Verilife Marijuana Dispensary, 4104 North Columbus St., for the first day of sales on Jan. 1, which served 900 customers. Police presence was due to the expected high-turnout at the cash-only business. Roalson said the only non-marijuana related issue that arose was a highly intoxicated man arriving at the nearby line and being asked to leave.

Illinois State Police District 17 also had no marijuana-related violations since the new year which includes DUIs, possession of marijuana or civil citations.

Illinois Conservation Police Sgt. Phil Wire also said they haven't had any violations yet.

"When the weather warms up and people start to come out, that's when we're expecting more violations," Wire said.

More specifically at places like Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks, Wire expects there may be more violations of those going off trails to smoke. It's not necessarily a new concern, as it occurred prior to legalization, but those smoking with someone under 21 will expect two charges. One for smoking in a public place and another for smoking with someone under the age of 21.

"This is stuff we've had in the past, but it's never been an additional violation," Wire said.

Additionally, hunters should view the substance the same as alcohol and stay off it. It's illegal to be under the influence of alcohol and marijuana while on state-property but the presence of marijuana or alcohol also will be considered if hunting accidents occur on private property.

Peru Police Chief Doug Bernabei said the legalization has had "zero impact" for the police department thus far, including complaint calls, but doesn't expect it'll stay that way.

Bernabei said he's not expecting "widespread issues or challenges" but it may be difficult for officers to determine when someone is at an unsafe level of marijuana when behind the wheel.

"But the reality is that's always been a challenge," Bernabei said.

He said with the substance being more readily available over time more people may start using it, the same way that someone begins using alcohol at age 21, when they're legally able to drink it.

So far, he said the increased news and social media attention has given the public a good understanding of what they should and shouldn't be doing.

"New Year's Eve came and went and it's been legal and the evidence for us is we haven't had any issues with it," he said.

Marseilles Police Chief Brian Faber said it's been business as usual for them as well; the New Year went by without any marijuana related instances.

"Matter of fact, we haven't dealt with any of this yet; it's gone really well," Faber said. "We'll deal with DUIs accordingly but that's still training and field sobriety like we've always done."

Streator Police Chief Kurt Pastirik said the city didn't have any marijuana related incidences to report. La Salle and Livingston County sheriff's offices reported they haven't dealt with any marijuana related incidents, either.

"There's been nothing from us," said La Salle County Sheriff Tom Templeton.

The Times will reach out to local law enforcement agencies throughout the year to identify what, if any, impact legalization has on the community.

— Reporters Michael Urbanec and Derek Barichello contributed to this report.

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