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Going To Illinois For 'Weed Tourism'? What Wisconsin Drivers Need To Know

Justin Sullivan
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Pot legalization is going into effect in January in Illinois.

People will soon be allowed to smoke marijuana in Illinois. The law was passed in May and will take effect in January 2020. That could spark a whole new type of "weed tourism," where Wisconsinites travel south to use the drug.

So, what do people traveling through this state need to know about possessing marijuana or even driving after ingesting it?

READ: Is Wisconsin Missing Out On The Money By Not Legalizing Marijuana?

Ren Gresbach wants to know. When Illinois' law goes into effect in January, the 21-year-old University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student says he plans to partake.

"I actually have a lot of friends and am in a relationship with someone who lives in Illinois. Going down there, I usually take 94 South. So, usually that's just for weekends, daytrips sometimes," he says.

And Gresbach has a lot of questions, like how long after getting high do you have to wait to drive legally and is it OK to be high in Wisconsin?

We talked with a Wisconsin state trooper and a criminal defense attorney to answer some of Gresbach's questions and other questions that many Wisconsinites may have now that marijuana will soon be legal to buy in Illinois.

READ:Illinois Governor Signs Law Legalizing Recreational Use Of Marijuana

Can you have weed or marijuana products — bought legally in Illinois — on you in Wisconsin? 

No. State Trooper Michael Lawson says the law hasn't changed in the state of Wisconsin in that regard.

"As of right now, it is illegal to possess marijuana, so whether purchased legally and brought here or grown here, it is still illegal," he says.

The statute is Wisconsin Statutes Section 961.41(3g)(e). The prohibition also applies to items people use to smoke or ingest weed, as outlined in Wisconsin Statutes Section 961.573.

Credit David Ryder / Getty Images
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Items that people use to smoke marijuana are also illegal in Wisconsin.

Is it illegal to be high in Wisconsin if you're not driving — like if someone smokes weed in Illinois and comes to Wisconsin?

No. Legally, you can be high in Wisconsin. 

"There is no law that would prevent someone from doing that," says Lawson.

But what's the law on driving in Wisconsin after you've gotten high?

First of all, police can't stop you randomly or at checkpoints. They need a reasonable suspicion that you're violating the law — that includes traffic laws, like speeding or not wearing a seatbelt.

Then, police look for signs of impaired driving.

"Admissions would be one example, there's different clues — so if someone says they're high, different odors inside the vehicle. Their eyes, if they were red, bloodshot," Lawson explains. 

Credit Maayan Silver
Wisconsin State Trooper Michael Lawson at a Kenosha weigh station about a half mile from the Illinois border.

Law enforcement can then put drivers through field sobriety tests to check if they can perform physical and mental tasks at the same time.

The law states you can't drive under the influence. In Wisconsin, that's traditionally called operating while intoxicated (OWI). But Andrew Golden, Wisconsin criminal defense attorney, says that applies to more than just alcohol.

"It could mean any controlled substance, whether it's alcohol or any drug or any medication that would materially impair your ability. That's the key phrase in the OWI statute: that it materially impairs your ability to operate the vehicle," Golden explains.

READ: Where Wisconsin Lawmakers Stand On Legalizing Marijuana

But that's not the only charge people open themselves up to if they drive after getting high.

It's also a crime to drive with any detectable amount of a restricted controlled substance in your blood, for instance the active ingredient in marijuana — delta-9-THC.

"So, the presence of delta-9 generally means that you — or at least the way that it's viewed by the police — that you've smoked recently enough where it could be impairing your ability," says Golden.

There is currently a bill in the Legislature that would make it OK to have up to 1 nanogram per milliliter of delta-9-THC in the blood.

Attorney General Josh Kaul speaks to WUWM's Maayan Silver about issues for Wisconsinites surrounding marijuana legalization in Illinois and a hemp bill that's currently in the Legislature that could impact state driving laws.

Credit David McNew / Getty Images
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Budtenders serve up weed, but don't smoke or ingest the goods before you drive.

How long after getting high should you wait until you could drive legally?

That's a hard question to answer. But it probably makes sense to at least wait overnight. After all, marijuana affects everyone differently. 

"The problem is that it's going to be incredibly fact specific based on your weight ... your own personal tolerance for the drug," says Golden. "Again, to compare this to alcohol, there are some people that have one glass of wine and they get tipsy. There are some people that can drink an entire six pack and you wouldn't really know the difference."

What's one piece of advice if you're going to Illinois to take part in "weed tourism"?

Both Golden and Lawson give the same advice: don't drive.

"I think it would be best to err on the safe side and not ingest anything and get behind a few thousand pound vehicle. I wouldn't risk my life, I wouldn't risk other motoring public's life just by taking the chance of smoking marijuana and getting behind the wheel," says Lawson.

So, if you plan on heading down to Illinois to smoke or ingest weed, have a designated driver or take the Amtrak

This is the first story in our series Weed & Wisconsin: When Neighboring States Legalize

Editor's note: This story was originally published on Oct. 22, 2019.

Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
Lauren Sigfusson
Lauren became WUWM's digital producer in July 2018.
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