Chambers of commerce largely staying silent on marijuana sales

Suburban chambers of commerce are largely staying out of the debate on whether to allow or forbid recreational marijuana sales in towns across the region.

The ethics behind whether the drug should be sold is out of the arena of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, President and CEO Nicki Anderson said. So the organization will trust the city council to decide how to set zoning regulations, to ban pot shops or control their number and location.

"If there's a retail store that comes in, we're a pro-business organization," Anderson said. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it and see what happens."

Instead of weighing in on the pros and cons of the new marijuana industry, launching Jan. 1 under state law, the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce is working to inform businesses about consequences of employees gaining the ability to use the drug legally.

"It is approved, so it doesn't matter what we think," said Jim DiCaula, president and CEO. "What we've been doing is hosting a series of seminars and conversations with our members so they can prepare themselves for what the implications are."

Human resources, hiring, drug testing and insurance - especially for companies that employ drivers - are likely to be the realms of business most affected, DiCaula said.

Employers - especially those that conduct business across state lines - will need to review their drug-testing policies to ensure they meet insurance standards, he said. Then they'll need to apply those policies consistently to avoid potential complaints of discrimination.

The Naperville chamber supported the lobbying efforts of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce to strengthen employer protections under the new law so companies can still enact zero-tolerance drug policies. Whenever recreational pot shops get up and running, there are conflicting projections of how they will affect state finances.

A study released in November 2018 by Colorado Christian University found the legal marijuana industry has adversely affected spending in that state. The DuPage County Health Department included one of the study's key findings in its December report "Marijuana's Impact on Public Health," as a caution for what could happen here.

"For every dollar gained in tax revenue, Coloradans spent approximately $4.50 to mitigate the costs of legalization," according to the Colorado Christian University report, called "Economic and Social Costs of Legalized Marijuana." "Costs related to the health care system and to high school dropouts are the largest cost contributors."

Conversely, a report called "The Financial Impact of Legalizing Marijuana in Illinois," also from November 2018, says "Illinois taxpayers would save $18.4 million annually in reduced incarceration costs, law enforcement spending and legal fees from marijuana legalization."

The report, by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois' School of Labor and Employment Relations, found a projected $1.6 billion in annual marijuana sales could "generate $525 million in new tax revenues, including $505 million for the state and $20 million for local governments."

Allow sales or 'incur pain'? Suburbs weighing legal pot shop regulations

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