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Article updated: 9/30/2013 2:02 PM

Naperville may limit medical marijuana locations

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When Illinois' medical marijuana industry begins in January, where will new growing and dispensing operations go?

The answer is at least partly up to municipalities, which can use their zoning codes to regulate the locations of businesses defined as cultivation centers or dispensing organizations.

Naperville will begin considering zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses Tuesday night as councilmen review staff recommendations to limit such facilities to industrial parks, set a distance requirement from residential areas and require all medical marijuana operations to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis instead of allowed outright.

The proposed zoning code updates, which also would prohibit medical marijuana cultivation centers or dispensing organizations from opening in downtown and general commercial areas, are set to be considered during a council meeting at 7 p.m. in the municipal center, 400 S. Eagle St.

Councilman Grant Wehrli said he sees the zoning review as a part of complying with state law, which in August was updated to allow marijuana to be given to patients with serious, debilitating diseases causing chronic pain.

"It's just making sure if people want to pursue that line of business in Naperville, (our zoning code) reflects where it can and cannot be located," Wehrli said.

Naperville's possible zoning changes are in addition to state restrictions that say cultivation centers cannot be within 2,500 feet of the property line of a school, day care center or residential area, and only one can open in each of the 22 state police districts statewide.

The state also prohibits dispensing organizations from being located within 1,000 feet of the property line of a school or day care, from opening in any type of residence or residential area and from referring patients to a physician.

The zoning changes councilmen will consider will serve more to regulate the dispensing side of medical marijuana than cultivation, Councilman David Wentz said, since only a few areas in town meet the state requirements for cultivation center locations.

"My concern is avoiding alternate use of this for something beyond medication," Wentz said.

He said keeping dispensaries out of downtown and allowing only one in each strip mall or collection of buildings under the same ownership will help prevent the new businesses from being too widespread.

Councilman Steve Chirico, who said he will be leading Tuesday's meeting as mayor pro tem while Mayor George Pradel attends another meeting, said his opinion differs from the staff recommendation that all dispensaries be limited to industrial areas.

"The dispensaries are more like a pharmacy and should be allowed in retail areas," Chirico said. "Legal, prescribed medication shouldn't be restricted to an industrial park."

If the city council agrees on zoning restrictions, the changes will be brought to the planning and zoning commission for review in November and back to the council for possible approval in December.

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