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Police concerned about possible DUI impact of cannabis sales in Bloomington
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Police concerned about possible DUI impact of cannabis sales in Bloomington

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BLOOMINGTON — How to determine whether a driver should be charged with driving under the influence of cannabis and its impact on police officers' time were among issues raised Thursday night as a Bloomington task force discussed the pros and cons of allowing the sale of recreational cannabis.

"I am just really concerned about what we don't know," said Bloomington Assistant Police Chief Greg Scott, who, along with Sgt. Aaron Veerman, represents law enforcement on the 10-member panel. "What is the impact going to be on our community? And there is really no good data out there to suggest it's going to be really bad or it's going to be really good."

Scott said it is more difficult to determine if someone is driving under the influence of cannabis than it is to verify drunken driving.

"If I pull you over and I think you driving impaired and I can smell alcohol, I am going work with alcohol because we can test for that," said Scott. "Really, the only time drugged driving, regardless of the substance, comes into effect is if we have no indications of alcohol use. But if we think there is something then the only way we can get that is to go to a hospital to have blood drawn."

That sample then has to be sent to a lab in Chicago for analysis, "so essentially we have to wait for that test to come back before we can file a charge of DUI-drugs," Scott said.

Patrol officers "are going to go with DUI alcohol more often than not just from the standpoint that if you are arrested for a DUI-alcohol they take you in and do a breath test," said Veerman. "Then they take you to the county (jail) and (the officers) are back out on the street.

"If you go with the drug route they have to take you the hospital and they are going to be waiting on the medical staff (to do a) blood draw. You are looking at hours and hours off the street.

"So if this does become a more serious problem where we have more DUI-cannabis, you are going to have more officers who are spending more down time," Veerman added.

"As you increase the incidents for us to respond to calls, that is going to negatively impact other crime," said Scott. "We are not bursting at the seams with cops and they're pretty well tapped from the time they hit the street to the time they go home."

The task force was created to help the Bloomington City Council decide how to proceed under the law that will allow the sale and use of recreational canbabis in Illinois as of Jan. 1.

Local governments do not have any authority to limit or prohibit anyone from using cannabis, but they can decide whether to opt out of allowing the sale of cannabis.

The Normal City Council also is weighing whether to ban, regulate or broadly approve local cannabis businesses. 

"The cannabis legislation only gives municipalities a few pathways," said task force member John Walsh, who is McLean County Chamber of Commerce's manager of government and public affairs, 

He sees four possible options for Bloomington: disallowing or significantly limiting any cannabis business locally; allowing such businesses through uses permitted by the city's zoning code; allowing for variances through individually approved special-use permits; or allowing consumption on the premises of a dispensary.

The city will have to start by Oct. 28 the process of making related zoning changes in order to be ready by Jan. 1, Walsh added.

Existing medical marijuana dispensaries, including one in Normal, can apply for state-award licenses, beginning Tuesday, to add recreational sales and/or another dispensary location.

The state has indicated most of west and south Bloomington and neighborhoods surrounding Illinois State University in Normal could receive preference for a state-licensed recreational cannabis dispensary because those areas were hardest hit by previous war-on-drugs efforts.

That could mean three dispensaries in the Twin Cities could be licensed to sell recreational cannabis.

"I think downtown business owners do not want a dispensary downtown," said panel member Jan Lancaster, who is president of the Downtown Bloomington Association. "Normal has said they don't want it in their downtown. I think we should work with Normal so our (regulations) are very similar."

The task force will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday at a location to be announced later.

Contact Maria Nagle at (309) 820-3244. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Nagle

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