CHICAGO – For all the back-slapping and applause as Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signs legalized marijuana into law Monday, local law enforcement is bracing for problems that could come along with it.
Legalization doesn’t suddenly remove the drug trade’s criminal element, they say, while some argue it even inspires it.
As one federal agent told WGN Investigates, “Look to Colorado for signs of some of the trouble ahead.”
Just last month, investigators in that state seized more than 80,000 plants and 4,500 pounds of harvested marijuana in the largest marijuana black market investigation in Colorado’s history.
“The legalization of marijuana has created all kind of problems,” said Jason Dunn, U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado. “These are pure black markets creating large amounts of marijuana for distribution out of state through criminal enterprises.”
In the Denver area, police say criminals have ignored limits designed to constrain production, growing so much black-market marijuana, it’s being illegally shipped in significant amounts to seven states, including Illinois.
There are also concerns about road safety. In Colorado, marijuana-related driving deaths have more than doubled since legalization. There were 139 in 2017, up from 55 in 2013. Marijuana was involved in 21 percercent of the traffic fatalities in 2017.
In Illinois, the governor and others portray the legalization of marijuana as a new revenue stream - plus a new start for people who have a criminal record for relatively minor amounts of pot possession.
Under federal law, marijuana is still considered to be an illegal controlled substance on par with heroin. But agents are more concerned with large-scale sellers, than recreational users.
As for the impact on the drug trade?
A top official with the DEA in Chicago tells WGN Investigates: “These are trans-national criminal organizations. They’re in it to generate revenue and they’re not going to stop.”