Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

Eric Schmid

Metro East Reporter

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East area in Illinois for St. Louis Public Radio. He joins the news team as its first Report for America corps member and is tasked with expanding KWMU's coverage east from the Mississippi. Before joining St. Louis Public Radio, Eric held competitive internships at Fox News Channel, NPR-affiliate WSHU Public Radio and AccuWeather. As a news fellow at WSHU's Long Island Bureau, he covered governments and environmental issues as well as other general assignments. Eric grew up in Northern Colorado but attended Stony Brook University, in New York where he earned his degree in journalism in 2018. He is an expert skier, avid reader and lifelong musician-he plays saxophone and clarinet.

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A worker trims marijuana plants in Ascend Illinois' growing facility in Barry, IL.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Illinois’ new recreational marijuana market is off to a hot start even amid the spread of coronavirus. Earlier this week, the state announced nearly $36 million worth of legal cannabis was sold in March — on par with numbers from February.

The center of SIUE's campus without any students on March 30. The university asked all students move out of the dorms on March 21.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

EDWARDSVILLE — College students should respond to the 2020 census as if they were still living on campus or in their off-campus apartment, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The coronavirus outbreak has added confusion to this question because most college students are now back at home, finishing their semesters online. 

The decennial headcount tracks where people in the U.S. live and sleep most of the time. 

Illinois REAL IDs have a gold star in the top right corner.
Illinois Secretary of State Office

Updated March 28 with the new October 2021 deadline

Like the rest of the country, Illinois residents will need to get Real IDs if they want to continue to use their licenses or other state identification cards to board domestic flights and enter federal buildings starting late next year.

In March, the state started issuing Real IDs in compliance with the security standards set by the 2005 Real ID act. Compliant licenses are marked by a gold star in the top right corner of the card. 

A sign in Belleville encouraging residents to respond to the census on March 24, 2020. The coronavirus has upended much of the local census outreach efforts. 03 24 2020
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — The actions Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker took to curb the spread of the coronavirus are having an impact on local organizations trying to ensure accurate census counts in the Metro East.

The orders to close schools and stay at home came at the height of many local outreach efforts only weeks before census day on April 1. 

As medical marijuana sales start in Missouri in 2020, local companies see potential new clients in the companies that are recieving the medical program's first licenses.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Thousands of retail stores and other businesses have shuttered across Illinois under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “stay-at-home” order, which was issued on Friday. But there is one notable exception: Marijuana dispensaries are open to both medical and recreational customers.

Medical cannabis facilities are classified as essential health care and public health operations under Pritzker’s order. While other businesses have seen steep drops in customers, sales at cannabis dispensaries remain solid.  

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker annouced he would expand Illinois Medicaid becuase of the coronavirus outbreak at a press conference on March 18, 2020.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced he filed for a federal waiver to expand Medicaid coverage for COVID-19 illnesses in the state at a press conference on Wednesday.

“We’re working both with the insurance companies as well as with Medicaid with the federal government to try and make sure everything around COVID-19 is covered,” he said. “So that nobody has to go without treatment for a [coronavirus]-related illness.” 

Illinois was one of three states that held primaries on March 17, 2020. Voter turnout was lower than usual, officials say.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Voters in Illinois went to the polls on Tuesday to decide whom they wanted to see on the ballot in November. A few cities and villages also put referendums to their voters. Congressional races in three Metro East districts were in play for the primary.

Here are five things to take away from the results.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is projected by the Associated Press to win the Democratic presidential primary in Illinois.
Gage Skidmore | NPR, Flickr

Former Vice President Joe Biden won the 2020 Illinois Democratic Primary. The Associated Press called the race for Biden at 7:23 p.m., shortly after the polls in Illinois closed.

Biden won the vast majority of Democratic voters in the Metro East, capturing between 60% and 70% of the primary vote in St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, Washington and Clinton counties.

The census will only ask if respondents are 'male' or 'female.' That leaves out a growing number of people who identify outside of that gender binary.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

Local organizations and governments have worked to avoid an undercount in their communities in the months leading up to the 2020 census. The U.S. Census Bureau started collecting responses to this year's headcount en masse, sending individual letters requesting a response to the headcount homes across on March 12. The survey, which happens once every decade in the U.S., collects the most comprehensive data about the demographic makeup of the country. 

One small but vulnerable population in the U.S. won’t be counted in the survey this time around, however. That’s because of how the question that asks about people’s sex appears on the form. The 2020 headcount only asks if people are “male” or “female.”

Voting election illustration
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — The Illinois primary election is moving forward as planned on Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said during a press conference on Thursday.

“Free and open elections are the structural support of our democracy,” he said.

Concern about the novel coronavirus has postponed the Louisiana primary, but in a joint statement, officials from Illinois, Ohio, Arizona and Florida affirmed their primaries would go on as planned. 

The U.S. Census Bureau identifies places that it expects will be hard-to-count ahead of each survey. In the 2020 count, all of those locations in the Metro East are in or around East St. Louis.
U.S. Census Bureau

Updated at 11:50 a.m. on March 12 with information about census letters

Most of the country will get letters from the U.S. Census Bureau starting March 12. 

The letters ask for households to respond to the census, which happens every 10 years and is mandated by the Constitution. It counts the total number of people in the country and where they currently live on April 1. 

Illinois Supply and Provisions in Collinsville sold $5 million of recreational marijuana in January. The dispensary accounted for 13.6% of sales in Illinois.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — The city council on Tuesday voted 8-3 to approve zoning regulations for marijuana businesses that want to come to the community.

This is the third, and final, piece of legislation the city had to pass before a dispensary would be able to open in the city. The council previously passed ordinances that allowed marijuana sales and restricted the number to just one single dispensary

Census workers in the field will have clear identification showing they work for the U.S. Department of Commerce.
U.S. Census Bureau

The St. Louis-area census office needs several hundred more people to apply to be census takers. The local office wants at least 13,000 applicants, and it has reached around 90% of that target, said Linda Gladden, a media specialist with the bureau.

The St. Louis office is responsible for counts in the city as well as St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties.

The available positions are for part-time census takers — the people who will go to homes that don’t submit an initial response online, by mail or by phone. The census bureau tries to place workers in neighborhoods where they live or that they know well, Gladden said.

Other regional offices in Kansas City, Springfield, Missouri, and Springfield, Illinois, have also hired the majority of the enumerators they need, Gladden said.

The Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Brooklyn, Illinois, on Feb. 26, 2020. The church is one of two verified Underground Railroad locations in the Metro East. 02 26 2020
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

BROOKLYN — On the outskirts of this St. Clair County village, a small green sign reveals how many people live there — about 750. The small community is about five square blocks and sits a few thousand feet from the Mississippi River. 

Yet for a village with less than 1,000 residents, there are 12 churches. The oldest, the Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church, was established in 1825 as a Methodist church. It stands apart for its role in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves in Missouri escape to freedom.

The census will only ask if respondents are 'male' or 'female.' That leaves out a growing number of people who identify outside of that gender binary.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — The success of the 2020 census will largely depend on people answering the survey themselves, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That way, the bureau can dedicate fewer resources to finding and counting people.

Bureau officials have identified a number of factors that result in low self-response rates. These include areas with more minority residents, low-income households, frequent movers, renters and many other factors.

The census will only ask if respondents are 'male' or 'female.' That leaves out a growing number of people who identify outside of that gender binary.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Communities across the Metro East are ramping up their efforts to get an accurate count when the U.S. Census Bureau begins collecting responses in less than two months. 

The once-a-decade headcount determines congressional representation and how billions of dollars in federal and state funding is distributed. Locally, critical revenue for cities and some communities' home rule status are at stake.

Illinois Supply and Provisions in Collinsville sold $5 million of recreational marijuana in January. The dispensary accounted for 13.6% of sales in Illinois.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 3:10 p.m., Feb. 12, with comments from Collinsville's mayor

COLLINSVILLE — Illinois Supply and Provisions recorded $5 million in sales of recreational marijuana in the first month of the year, city officials announced Tuesday. 

The preliminary figures come after a strong month of sales across the whole state. Illinois sold nearly $40 million of legal marijuana in January alone. 

Hundreds of people line up outside of Illinois Supply and Provisions in Collinsville on January 1, 2020 to legally buy recreational marijuana for the first time in Illinois.
Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat

COLLINSVILLE — The first month of recreational marijuana sales at Illinois Supply and Provisions brought hordes of people and their vehicles to a store that didn’t have enough parking for them. 

The dispensary reserved its 45-space parking lot for medical patients and handicapped recreational customers. A maze of metal barriers occupied the spaces directly in front of the store to contain crowds of people wanting to buy recreational cannabis. 

Fairview Heights Mayor Mark Kupsky addresses the council on Dec. 17, before they vote to allow cannabis sales in the community. The council voted 7-3 to allow cannabis related businesses to open in the community.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — The City Council voted nine to one on Tuesday to approve regulations for recreational marijuana businesses that want to open in the community. 

The ordinance specifies which kind of businesses can open in Fairview Heights — whether that be a dispensary, cultivator, craft grower or other facility. 

Have a question about legal marijuana in Illinois or medical marijuana in Missouri? Ask here, and we'll update this guide with answers as we report them out.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Feb. 3 with more answers to reader questions —

2020 will be a year of new marijuana laws. Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, six years after Colorado first started recreational sales. Missouri begins medical marijuana sales later in the year — likely this spring — and thousands of residents have already received certification cards.

With totally different laws in the neighboring states, there’s an understandable level of confusion among residents: Why is it easier to get medical marijuana in Missouri than in Illinois? Where can you consume cannabis products legally? How much will marijuana cost at dispensaries? And with the ease of traveling between Missouri and Illinois in the St. Louis region, what are the rules about bringing weed across state lines?

A worker trims marijuana plants in Ascend Illinois' growing facility in Barry, IL.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Illinois’ recreational cannabis industry is off to a strong start. 

Sales of recreational marijuana totaled $39.2 million in January, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation announced Monday. 

In the 31 days after recreational marijuana became legal in the state, consumers bought almost one million individual cannabis products. Illinois residents accounted for the majority of transactions, buying $30.6 million of legal marijuana. Out-of-state residents bought $8.6 million.

Students walk through the campus of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in the Spring of 2017.
SIUE

EDWARDSVILLE — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker released the first 10% of $105 million in funding for a new health sciences building on the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville campus Thursday.

The initial $10.5 million pays for the planning and design of the new building, which will house nursing, pharmacy, public health, social work and the many other health science programs at the university. 

The Illinois Housing Development Authority funded 172 supportive housing units for vulnerable populations. 22 of them are in Collinsville and will serve veterans in the area.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

COLLINSVILLE — The Illinois Housing Development Authority has dedicated nearly $43 million to create permanent supportive housing for vulnerable populations in the state. It’s the sixth time the state has funded such projects. 

The money will help create, rehab or restore 172 affordable housing units for low-income individuals or families and other groups, said Christine Moran, IDHA’s director of multifamily financing.

Steven King, owner of Metro Shooting Supplies, inspects one of the firearms in his store. Illinois State Police put new regulations for gun stores in effect this month.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — New rules from the Illinois State Police expand regulations on how firearms dealers must run their businesses. 

They directly impact how gun stores keep records, store weapons and ammunition and maintain surveillance and security systems.

Licensed dealers have to keep electronic records of their inventory and sales that can be easily searched by a firearm serial number, name of purchaser and other defining aspects of the gun or sale. 

Illinois Supply and Provisions in Collinsville sold $5 million of recreational marijuana in January. The dispensary accounted for 13.6% of sales in Illinois.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

SAUGET — There are now two places in the Metro East where people can legally purchase recreational marijuana.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation awarded the Green Solution in Sauget a “same-site” license Wednesday, which allows the dispensary to open its doors to recreational users in addition to the medical marijuana patients it already serves. The department also awarded a license for a recreational-only site in Quincy.  

Officials from the Green Solution did not respond to requests for comment before our deadline.

Cannabis flower grows at a recreational grow facility in Illinois. Sales of recreational marijuana started Illinois Jan 1.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

COLLINSVILLE — Legal recreational cannabis in Illinois goes on sale on Jan. 1, with at least one dispensary in the Metro East set to offer the product to both medical patients and recreational users.

Here are a few things you should know about buying and consuming Illinois’ recreational marijuana in 2020 and beyond.

East Main Street in Belleville. The city has created a committee to ensure a complete count of its residents in the 2020 census.
Paul Sableman | Flickr

BELLEVILLE — The city government has established a 22-person “Complete Count Committee” to increase the likelihood of an accurate headcount in the 2020 census.

The group isn’t formally affiliated with the official headcount, but it will work to engage and educate Belleville residents about the census and how to get counted, said Jennifer Ferguson, one of the 2020 census coordinators for the city.

Cannabis plants grow inside Ascend Illinois indoor facility in Barry, IL. Ascend owns two existing medical dispensaries and plans to open two additional recreational dispensaries early next year.
File Photo | Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Supplies of recreational marijuana in Illinois will likely be tight when the drug is fully legalized on Jan 1. A group of state lawmakers wrote a joint letter this month expressing their concerns.

“Each state that has implemented an adult-use cannabis program has had issues related to supply shortages,” wrote the group, including state Sens. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, and Laura Fine, D-Glenview, and state Reps. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago; Bob Morgan, D-Highwood; Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria; Celina Villanueva, D-Chicago, and David Welter, R-Morris.

Cannabis flower grows at a recreational grow facility in Illinois. Sales of recreational marijuana started Illinois Jan 1.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

Employers in Missouri may face many of the same challenges surrounding legal recreational marijuana as their Illinois counterparts.

Possession and consumption of the drug without a medical card will still be illegal in Missouri in the new year. But there’s nothing limiting residents from crossing the Mississippi River and consuming marijuana legally in Illinois as of Jan. 1. 

Lawyer Benjamin Wesselschmidt explains the new recreational cannabis law at the St. Clair County Country Club on Nov. 21. Many employers are re-thinking their drug testing policies since recreational marijuana will be legal on Jan. 1, 2020.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Ahead of the new year, local businesses and employers across Illinois are trying to determine how legal recreational marijuana will impact them. 

The law change, which came only six months ago, is forcing many employers to rethink how their workplaces handle drug policy and testing.

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