Illinois becomes 11th state to allow recreational marijuana

A man smokes marijuana from a bowl at his home in DeKalb, Ill. Gov. J.B. Pritzker made Illinois the nation's 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana use. Mark Busch/Daily Chronicle via AP

FULTON, Ill. — A Friday morning meeting at Agri-King in Fulton allowed Illinois business leaders and employers to discuss the future of their drug policies after the Illinois General Assembly's recent legalization of recreational marijuana.

The meeting, presented by the Clinton Regional Development Corp., gathered roughly 20 of those leaders and employers as they heard from Susan Zelnio, program director of Workforce Development with the Moline Foundation. Zelnio has dealt with various drug policy issues throughout her career, and Friday morning provided a brief update about how the new Illinois law would affect individual business policies.

"(The new law) is huge," Zelnio said. "Legislators are expecting a $57 million (increase in revenue in the first year) which will be great for them. Almost 800,000 will get their criminal record expunged, and about 40,000 who are currently serving time in prison (for marijuana-related offenses) will be released."

Zelnio highlighted those releases and expungements as thousands of new potential employees for Illinois employers, but "you have to realize that these people probably will smoke...the question is, do you want to have people who have smoked on their own time (working for you)?"

The presenter ultimately expressed that each employer's situation is different based on industry, equipment used, and other variables when it comes to being comfortable with employees who potentially smoke marijuana. Zelnio predicted a test in the future that would be able to tell employers if an employee has used marijuana in the previous 12 hours.

Zelnio continued to place responsibility on individual employers as to whether marijuana use would be allowed in company policy.

"(Marijuana use) is such a pervasive problem already, and it's going to get worse and worse when it officially becomes legal in Illinois," Zelnio said. "We anticipate it will. The question is for you, 'Does it matter? Does it really matter?'"

CRDC Existing Industries Manager Andy Sokolovich was on hand for the meeting, eager to hear how the new Illinois law would play out. Sokolovich was introduced to Zelnio in recent months and felt that a larger conversation between her and Illinois Gateway-area employers could prove beneficial.

"There's a lot of talk and discussion now about drug policies," Sokolovich said. "Especially with the announcement of the use of recreational marijuana on this side of the river...I met Susan about seven months ago, and this was kind of her area of expertise when we met. That's why I wanted to bring her here to provide an update about substance abuse policy, and for you employers, to maybe help out with drug policy questions and how yours may change."