When Can I Walk Into A Store And Buy A Joint? Answers To Your Questions About Legal Weed

An illustration of a hand holding a joint with smoke plumes that make question marks.
Paula Friedrich / WBEZ
An illustration of a hand holding a joint with smoke plumes that make question marks.
Paula Friedrich / WBEZ

When Can I Walk Into A Store And Buy A Joint? Answers To Your Questions About Legal Weed

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Updated Dec. 9, 2019

Illinois is on the verge of some big changes, culturally and economically, as recreational weed becomes legal January 1.

For residents 21 and up, legalization means the freedom to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis flower to use as they please (wherever the law allows, of course).

For state officials, it means scrambling to get regulations in place for a new estimated billion-dollar industry.

And all eyes are on that industry, which lawmakers have promised will be equitable and divers e.

As we roar toward January, WBEZ is answering your questions about legal pot. We’ve got answers to a few quick hit questions here, but will be digging into others in the coming weeks. What are you curious about? Submit those questions here.

“How long will it be until you can walk into a store and buy a joint? How long until you can do that in every neighborhood in Chicago?”

-Anonymous, 24, Edgewater, Chicago

The short answer: January 1. That’s when the sale and consumption of recreational weed becomes legal in Illinois, and theoretically when recreational dispensaries will be open for business.

Many dispensaries have already gotten the green light from the state to open at the turn of the year (here’s a list of them). They are all existing medical dispensaries, which get first crack at also opening up a recreational shop.

More numbers: the state’s awarding up to 75 additional licenses for new business owners by May 1, 2020, and up to 110 more by December 21, 2021.

But industry folks say there are some challenges ahead. A big one: state law allows municipalities to say no to recreational weed dispensaries in their towns, and some have already done so.

Thank you for not smoking weed ?

“Where will weed smoking be prohibited? Is it going to have the same status as cigarettes?”


You can’t smoke weed or use pot products at parks, on streets and sidewalks, on grade school grounds or while in a car. The law also says that you can’t smoke or use marijuana “knowingly in close physical proximity to anyone under 21 years of age,” but doesn’t define “proximity.”

Colleges and universities can still prohibit students from using cannabis.

Local governments could allow, or ban, consuming inside pot-related businesses.

You can smoke inside your home. But if you’re a renter, your landlord can ban smoking inside your apartment.

“Can people from other states buy pot and take it back with them?”

-Stephanie Kirchner

No. Recreational marijuana is still prohibited by the federal government, so crossing state lines with weed, even if it was purchased legally, is still against the federal law.

Here’s what the Illinois State Police had to say about traveling with marijuana by car: “Cannabis laws vary from state to state, while traveling to and from each state, each person must abide by those laws within that state.”

Translation: if you get pulled over in a state where it’s illegal, you’ll likely be in trouble.

“How is the state ensuring that the communities who have been most damaged by the racist war on drugs will benefit from legalization?”

-Rene Paquin, 41, Bridgeport, Chicago

The law addresses racial equity and seeks to reverse some harm done to black and brown communities because of the war on drugs. It’s been praised by many for its social equity components, but some say lawmakers left several opportunities on the table. And Chicago aldermen are pushing for weed sales to be delayed because they argue white medical marijuana dispensary operators are getting too much of a leg up in the recreational weed business.

The law provides a way for people with low-level cannabis convictions to get them off their records. People who were arrested for carrying under 30 grams of weed will get their records automatically expunged, unless the case involves a violent offense. People with more serious marijuana offenses have to go through a court process to clear their record.

A whopping 770,000 cases are eligible for expungement, according to lawmakers. But the process will take years. The Tribune did a deep dive into what it’ll look like. You can find it here.

Open for pot business

The law also aims to help people impacted by the war on drugs get into the marijuana business with low-interest loans from a $30 million state fund. It also calls for 25 percent of the state’s weed revenue to be invested in communities ravaged by the war on drugs. More details on those programs are here.

“What kind of regulation will be out on products sold in recreational marijuana shops? Things like chemicals and artificial additives?”

-Bradley Earnest, 26, West Dundee

The Illinois Department of Agriculture is leading that charge, and will be responsible for setting regulations, and approving cannabis samples from cultivation centers.

That’s what the department does now with the state’s medical cannabis. Cultivation centers get their weed tested for things like pesticides, contaminants, or toxins by state-approved laboratories. The Department of Agriculture then tests random samples of cannabis for active ingredients in order to approve label information.

This responsibility has gotten significant attention recently, as vitamin E acetate, not currently banned in Illinois, has been linked to several cannabis vaping injuries in New York.

If you speak legalese and want more details, you can find them here and here.

“Will jobs and volunteer opportunities still be able to drug test potential employees/volunteers? Can a positive test prevent employment?”

-Anonymous, 43, Old Irving Park, Chicago

Oh yes. Employers can still test workers and fire them for using marijuana, even on their own time, because smoking weed is still illegal under federal law. 

In addition, nothing in the state law stops employers from having a “reasonable employment policy” regarding smoking or using cannabis in the workplace.

And nothing in the law prohibits employers from firing or disciplining someone for violating that policy.

A marijuana plant in a nicely decorated home

“How many plants can I grow at home, per adult, for personal use?”


Recreational users cannot grow plants at home. If you’re a medical card holder, can grow up to five plants at home if:

  • You’re 21 or older

  • You own your household or have permission from the owner

  • You take “reasonable precautions” to keep cannabis away from people under 21

  • You grow your cannabis out of view from the public

“Are there penalties for driving under the influence of weed? Is there a way to test for misuse and impairment? How are police being trained?”

-Priscilla Sibley

Driving under the influence of cannabis to the point of impairment is and will remain illegal in Illinois, though like alcohol, you are allowed to drive with a certain amount of THC in your system.

The Illinois State Police says officers will use their current training to determine whether someone is impaired. That means monitoring a person’s response time, how quickly they’re moving, their speech, what their eyes look like, and whether their car smells like cannabis.

But the department is also researching ways to test for cannabis DUIs roadside, including a saliva-based test used elsewhere.

A recent study on Michigan’s pilot program showed roadside saliva tests have been pretty effective in testing for weed and other drugs.

Penalties for driving impaired include 100 hours of community service and a $500 fine for the first offense.

This story has been corrected to reflect that only medical card holders 21 and up can grow cannabis at home.

Mariah Woelfel is a producer at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.

Illustrations are by WBEZ’s interactive producer Paula Friedrich. You can follow her on Twitter @Pauliebe.