As the state discloses more information on Franklin County medical marijuana business applications, the reality that pot will soon be available for purchase here legally is hitting home.

Critics fear it is only a matter of time before recreational use of the drug is permitted. If Illinois is any indication, it could take about five years.

Last week, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill legalizing the possession and use of marijuana for adults, ages 21 and older, starting Jan. 1, 2020.

Illinois will become the 11th state to approve recreational pot use along with Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, Nevada, Vermont and Washington. Missouri is among 23 other states that allow it for medical use only.

Illinois lawmakers approved a medical marijuana pilot program in 2013 and the first licensed medical cannabis dispensaries opened to the public in 2015.

Similarly, Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing medical marijuana in November 2018. It is expected Missouri dispensaries and other cannabis operations will be fully functioning sometime in late spring of 2020.

As of March 1, 2019, there were 55 licensed medical cannabis dispensaries in Illinois. A few of them are less than an hour’s drive from Franklin County. Under the new Illinois law, they will be the only place where you can legally buy recreational marijuana.

Those dispensaries can apply to sell adult-use marijuana, and the new law also allows them to open a second location for that purpose, according to a report in the Springfield News Leader.

To be sure, Missouri isn’t Illinois. Lawmakers in the Land of Lincoln approved recreational pot use, in part, because the state is in dire financial shape. They need the new tax revenue recreational marijuana will undoubtedly generate to alleviate potential bankruptcy. Moreover, Illinois is more liberal than Missouri due to Chicago’s influence.

That isn’t the situation in the Show-Me state. But changing social norms regarding pot suggests more states are going to move toward legalizing recreational use of the drug. It’s only a matter of time, pot advocates predict, before a majority of states have legal weed.

The first step is legalizing cannabis for medical use and developing the necessary regulatory and commercial infrastructure for its cultivation and distribution. Once that is in place, the evolution to legalized recreational pot use will happen organically (excuse the pun) as society becomes more accepting of legal weed.

In six months, area residents will be able to drive a short distance to smoke pot legally. In a few years, they might not have to leave the state.

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