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Local

Opinions on legalizing marijuana mixed in DeKalb County

Responses run the gamut, some prefer not to talk about topic

Naomi Bolden said she’s neutral on the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana in Illinois, but if it happens, she hopes her fellow students won’t let it affect their work

Bolden, 21, of Chicago, is the new president of Northern Illinois University’s Student Association and will be a senior next year. She said she is glad the state is open to discussing progressive issues.

“I’m not sure [legalization] would change the student experience, but I do think a lot of petty little crimes we see on campus or in the dorm halls would go down,” Bolden said. “I do think a lot more students would feel more comfortable being able to smoke recreationally, but I just don’t want people to lose sight of what they’re here for.”

Recreational marijuana use is a controversial issue, as some who were contacted by the Daily Chronicle on Friday pointed out.

On the other hand, representatives from both the DeKalb and Sycamore Chambers of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment, and other people said they’d prefer not to talk about it or didn’t know what they thought.

Details of a proposal to legalize marijuana for adult use in Illinois were released May 4, and they include a number of provisions allowing for local control of the drug. In addition to retail sales, the bill as written would allow people to grow up to five plants in their homes, with conditions. Supporters estimate that legalization eventually could generate about $500 million a year in tax revenue.

Opinion polls, including one released in March by the Paul Simon Institute, have shown that about two-thirds of Illinoisans support an end to marijuana prohibition. Law enforcement leaders have remained largely opposed, while some politicians also are opposed or think legalization now would be too hasty. Although a medical marijuana pilot program was enacted in 2015, there are no dispensaries in DeKalb County.

The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and the Illinois Association of Police Chiefs released a statement May 8 opposing legalization, citing cannabis-related fatal traffic incidents, a loophole they said would cause more organized crime and a lack of ability to regulate consumption.

DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith has said he’s open to more community conversation on the matter, while Sycamore Mayor Curt Lang has said he’d rather not see recreational dispensaries in Sycamore.

Jeff Foster, 47, co-owner and founder of Common Grounds coffee shop in downtown DeKalb, said he supports legalization because it will keep at-risk kids from getting into more trouble.

“It can be controlled, just like with gun laws,” Foster said. “I say to each his own, just like cigarettes and vaping. I’m a libertarian. I think government should not touch little gray areas of morality.”

The proposal would allow adults 21 and older to legally buy cannabis from licensed dispensaries for recreational use. Illinois residents could possess up to about an ounce of marijuana, while others could possess about a half-ounce. The measure also automatically would erase criminal records of all misdemeanor and some felony marijuana convictions, a provision that has been controversial. Local leaders could decide whether to allow dispensaries in their communities.

Aditya Bharadwaj, 26, of Bangalore, India, an NIU graduate student who just earned his master’s degree in computer science, said he isn’t necessarily in support of legalization, since it might not be a good fit, especially for a college campus.

“We are a research university,” Bharadwaj said. “If everyone started doing it, the world wouldn’t function. Would you like it if your professor does weed and then comes to class?”

Todd Koley, 26, of Genoa, who works as a manager at World Famous Pizza in Sycamore, said he would support legalization.

“Personally, if people can drink alcohol, I don’t see why not,” Koley said Friday. “It’s being bought and sold either way, regardless. People are smoking weed, selling it, buying it.”

Dan Linn, executive director of the state chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, said prohibition hasn’t worked. He lived in unincorporated Sycamore for years and now lives in Springfield, where he works as a lobbyist.

Linn said legalization could bring tax relief, jobs and revenue to DeKalb County.

“It may come as a surprise to some folks, but there’s probably already a lot of students selling or using on campus,” Linn said. “Prohibition hasn’t worked. But if we were to legalize it, these students could get jobs in this industry, and we could harness their entrepreneurial spirit.”

Jim Loomis, 58, of Kingston stood on the sidewalk near the Sycamore post office Friday and said he’s all for legalization.

“It’s good for you,” Loomis said. “I’m a mechanic, I’m tired of pain. It’s easy to get. I get it, I’m not going to lie.”

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