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updated: 1/7/2014 5:41 PM

Lake County weighing rules for pot businesses

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Lake County officials are considering holding a public hearing to discuss potential rules for local businesses that would grow and sell marijuana for medicinal uses.

The county board's planning, building and zoning committee favored the hearing concept during a meeting Tuesday in Waukegan. If the proposal moves forward, the county's zoning board of appeals will schedule the hearing.

A public hearing will allow people to share what are likely diverse opinions on the issue with county officials before plans are enacted, said Eric Waggoner, the county's planning director.

"Although we anticipate that potential qualifying patients throughout Lake County may welcome the idea of medical cannabis facilities in their area, the larger population may have a more cautious attitude as this is a new state law with potential impacts on communities," Waggoner said in an email.

The planning committee also favored delaying any requests to open marijuana-related businesses in unincorporated areas for 120 days. Such moratoriums have been adopted by several communities in recent months as state, regional and local officials developed potential zoning rules for the businesses.

The full county board will vote on the public hearing recommendation and the proposed business delay when it meets Jan. 14. That session is set for 9 a.m. at the county government building in Waukegan. A date for the public hearing will be set after the votes.

The cultivation and sale of medical marijuana became legal in Illinois on New Year's Day.

The law established a maximum of 60 dispensaries and 22 cultivations centers statewide, one in each state police district. That means Lake County likely would be eligible for one such business, officials have said.

"There is a good chance that we won't even have one," county board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said in an email.

The law also allows reasonable zoning regulations for the facilities.

A task force has developed model rules for entrepreneurs who want to open medical marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries in Lake County.

The proposals aren't binding. Rather, they're templates municipal and county officials can use when they develop local regulations.

The task force's recommendations focus on security features, parking, signs and other business-related elements.

It may be a few months until the county board is ready to adopt rules for medical-marijuana facilities, Waggoner said.

When asked his opinion of the new law, Lawlor said his personal feelings on the issue are irrelevant.

"It's state law," said Lawlor, a Vernon Hills Republican. "What's important is that we enact zoning policies that ensure medical marijuana is being used by those who have conditions that warrant it. We need to do everything we can to prevent medical marijuana from getting into the wrong hands."

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