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Illinois Chiefs pack training session ahead of recreational marijuana legalization

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It's like finals week for police - just days now until recreational marijuana is legal in Illinois and law enforcement is studying on how to enforce it all.

For the last few weeks, city and elected officials, educators, residents and police have expressed their opinion on recreational cannabis and how it will or will not benefit the state, but the latter, have been equally as vocal about some of the gray areas when it comes to enforcement.

Nearly seventy ranking officers and chiefs participated in voluntary training at Illinois Central College. The Central Illinois Police training Center is located on the school's North campus in Peoria.

The popular consensus among law enforcement seems to be that training to understand how to fully enforce, execute and understand cannabis law is not a finite matter; rather an ongoing process that will take case law to help navigate.

But the 3-hour course was a start for a law that folks like Chillicothe Mayor Don White and former Bartonville Police Chief Brian Fengel, agree was rushed.

Fengel transitioned from Police Chief to the Director of the training center, running point on initiatives like Thursday's, which invited Peoria County State's Attorney Jodi Hoos to speak.

Area police and city leaders alike have told 25 News on several occasions they've been waiting for more direction from Hoos' office about clarification on the law before adjusting ordinances, policies and procedures.

During her portion of the class, Hoos made it clear that one of her top priorities is educating the public about the legal parameters of recreational cannabis use. And she challenged all in attendance to take an active role in that feat.

"The law is 21 and over; which means if there's a 20-year-old who has it- the law isn't for them. Similar to underage drinking. Does that mean you should put handcuffs on them and book em in? No. That's not what I'm advocating for and that's not what my office is gonna stand for." Hoos said.

She acknowledged an overwhelming amount of people still believe the law permits them to smoke freely - wherever, however and any amount; despite the efforts from departments to publish facts, resources and reminders on their websites, etc.

Hoos also gave the official sanction for officers to use their discretion in situations that are not particularly outlined by the law, but again she reiterated - "...It is no different than if you suspect someone is driving impaired because of alcohol."

When the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, 2020, Hoos isn't suggesting police turn the other cheek just because the law is new. However, she stated she expects police to use the same discretion they do with all situations to make a judgement call about 'some' infractions as the kinks of the law are worked out.

East Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow echoed that, while also pointing out the need for local municipalities to catch up as well. Many are still voting on whether or not to allow cannabis dispensaries to set up shop, while also working through their own ordinance ratifications - all of which must come after several public meetings and votes.

"Violations of this law can be criminal in some aspects, they can be civil and it can be a landlord tenant issue in some aspects too...It's about educating people and that's what it comes back to. 'Are your actions reasonable? Did you try and make an honest, good faith effort to comply with the law?' And then our discretion comes in the same way." Winslow outlined.

Part of the training helped reinforce current laws that are not changing.

Just as you cannot drink and drive, you can't smoke and drive either. And much of the current local provisions in place are not being changed at all.

"People were very surprised when they were in our town that they got handcuffed, transported to the police station, finger printed, given a mug shot and given a notice to appear for a ordinance violation. That's gonna continue to happen in our village." said Chief Craig Hilliard of Morton P.D.

Questions linger however about the margins of the marijuana law that still leave room for interpretation. For example, smoking cannabis while at home is legal, but smoking it in an area that can be reasonably seen by the public is not. So, what does that mean for people who sit outside on their porch and consider that an extension of their home?

Chief Winslow brought that up as well. "Some people wanna define a residence as the yard, the property, the cartilage of the house. Some interpret it as just being inside the residence, or any structure attached such as a deck. Those are the things that come down to policy decisions for each dept."

The printed material given to everyone in attendance outlined FAQS and major tenets of the law like Juvenile cannabis enforcement, unlawful possession, police canine searches, vehicle violations, cannabis in rental propoerties, and several others.

To find more information about upcoming training for officers, please click here.

The story will be updated with a PDF version of the actual traning given to officers on 12/20/2020.

Lauren Melendez

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