Despite legalization, mixed messaging surrounds marijuana in Illinois

WGN Investigates

LANSING, Ill. — Police have busted into Lorynda Welton’s south suburban home in the middle of the night on three separate occasions in recent years. They were looking for her son who was suspected of selling marijuana out of his mother’s house.

“I could very well be shot,” Ms. Welton said outside her Lansing home which still has a broken door frame and a lock damaged during the most recent raid.

The question isn’t whether police have a right to raid Welton’s home; they had a warrant and days before this story was aired, her son was arrested and hit with a felony drug charge during a traffic stop.

Instead, the issue illustrates the mixed messages on marijuana circulating in the State of Illinois. Police can present all the marijuana cases they want but some prosecutors don’t see cannabis-related crimes as a priority.

Welton’s son never received a sentence stiffer than probation for previous marijuana-related charges.

“There’s got to be some consequences and people have to go to jail, unfortunately, to make this stop,” said Lansing police Lieutenant Al Phillips who oversees the drug team that targeted Welton’s son.

With more than 80 recreation and medical marijuana dispensaries licensed and operating in Illinois – and another 75 facilities in the pipeline – you might think drug dealers have moved-on from marijuana. But police in the city and suburbs say the black market for weed is red hot.

“We’ve run into so much cannabis over the last year we’ve run out of places to put it,” said Sgt. Ryan Monaghan with the Kane County Sheriff’s Department.

And that’s leading to dealers carrying more cash as well as weapons to protect themselves and their score.

“When people are selling drugs in neighborhoods, we’re afraid that there’s going to be robberies associated with it,” said Lt. Phillips.

Black market prices are also considerably cheaper than the tax-laden cannabis sold in legal dispensaries.

“When [dispensaries] opened-up last year we saw lines out the door,” said Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain. “But that quickly faced when [customers] compare prices and convenience. They’re going to stick with the guy they know.”

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