The law legalizing the recreational use of marijuana beginning Jan. 1 provides an exemption to the Smoke-Free Illinois Act that banned smoking at workplaces and most public places because of the health threat of secondhand smoke. A similar exemption already was in place for cigar lounges.
That means smoking once again could become commonplace at public places in Illinois, according to the law’s chief sponsor — but only of marijuana, not tobacco, which remains largely banned at workplaces and businesses.
Surprised to hear that, health advocates say allowing more smoking of any kind in indoor public places is a bad idea.
“This is a step backwards for the health of the people of Illinois,” says Kathy Drea, head of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Illinois.
Joel Africk, president and chief executive of the Respiratory Health Association, a Chicago advocacy group, says “it is critical for everyone’s safety and well-being — especially those living with lung diseases — that the state maintains the protections outlined in existing smoke-free and clean air acts.”
State Sen. Steve McClure, R-Jacksonville, one of only six conservatives who voted to legalize cannabis, says he thought the law lets local governments allow consumption only at state-licensed cannabis facilities.
“If [the sponsors] had told me that you can smoke cannabis in public places — including bars, restaurants, etcetera — I would’ve definitely voted no,” says McClure, noting that his mother died of lung cancer from secondhand smoke. “They should’ve made that intent clear to everyone.”
Downstate Sen. Steve McClure, whose mother died of lung cancer from secondhand smoke: “If [the sponsors] had told me that you can smoke cannabis in public places — including bars, restaurants, etcetera — I would’ve definitely voted no.”
Downstate Sen. Steve McClure, whose mother died of lung cancer from secondhand smoke: “If [the sponsors] had told me that you can smoke cannabis in public places — including bars, restaurants, etcetera — I would’ve definitely voted no.” Illinois Senate
Under the new law, weed use also could be allowed, at the places where marijuana is grown and sold — the state-licensed cannabis cultivation centers and dispensaries — if local authorities approve.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, the architect of the law legalizing recreational marijuana, says she and her colleagues in Springfield decided that social consumption of marijuana would be allowed but that the state wouldn’t license that, leaving it up to local officials.
She says it “felt like it made the most sense for them to be able to figure that out as it suits their communities. It’s really about licensing social consumption spaces, and that’s left very open for locals to determine what they want that to look like.”
Cassidy says the law allows local governments to determine whether to grant on-site consumption licenses to existing businesses as well as to new, standalone establishments that could function like hookah bars. If municipal officials want it, they could allow, for instance, movie patrons to light up in theaters.