An Illinois law legalizing recreational marijuana goes into effect today, and Chicago police have been instructed to stand at the ready near Chicago's newly-opened dispensaries, according to the Sun-Times.
However, although state law still prohibits public consumption of weed, the officers won't be there to ensure that people aren't lighting up in public; rather, they'll be there to protect dispensary customers from getting robbed.
Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the Sun-Times that the city's police force will be keeping a "heightened awareness" around dispensaries today, but will not be ticketing people who violate the prohibition on public consumption.
"We are not focused on that at all," Guglielmi said. Rather, he said, police will merely give people who light up in public a reminder of the rules and instruct them along.
Instead, Guglielmi said, police will be "interested in violence" on this day. Most dispensaries are cash only businesses, which means that police believe that the anticipated long lines of customers will likely have large amounts of cash and/or weed on hand, which will make them "attractive street robbery targets," according to Guglielmi.
"Any officer who has a dispensary in their beat, they're going to make contact with that business and they're going to make contact with that business and they're going to be maintaining a heightened presence while they're not answering other calls for service," Guglielmi continued.
He went on to explain that in the coming weeks, police will begin enforcement against street-level dealers and gangs who are trying to undercut dispensary prices by selling unlicensed weed. But for now, the focus is on keeping dispensary customers safe on what is expected to be a chaotic first day of legal weed shopping.
Chicago's violent crime problem has become a regular focus of media attention and political back-and-forth, as President Donald Trump has regularly criticized the city's Democratic leadership for failing to keep Chicago citizens safe.
Chicago police claim that the city's murder rate dropped by 13% in 2019, and that there were 492 murders in 2019, down from 567 in 2018. In comparison, the city of Houston, which has a similar size to Chicago, had less than half (279) that number of homicides in 2018. Houston has not yet released final figures for 2019.
There are now 11 states in the U.S. in which some form of recreational marijuana is legal, and another dozen that have effectively decriminalized it.