Are suburbs going to allow sale of marijuana? So far more say 'no' or leaning no

The effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois was a hot and, at times, divisive topic for months, with opposition from law enforcement and ultimately bipartisan support from the state legislature.

Now, it's the suburbs' turn.

Elected officials in towns big and small are starting to decide if they want to open the doors to marijuana sales in their towns - and, so far, more are saying "no," or leaning that way.

Naperville, Lake Barrington and Bloomingdale plan to officially ban sales, Libertyville leans toward the same and the mayor of Batavia said he will issue a veto if necessary.

Des Plaines officials have expressed concerns and are doing more research before deciding, which also will happen in Lincolnshire and Bartlett.

To date, only South Elgin and Elburn said they are OK with allowing one marijuana retail store.

Despite this early negativity, bill sponsors say they aren't worried about having enough communities throughout the state that will allow marijuana sales and meet estimates that it will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues and licensing fees.

"I think you're always going to hear the negative first. I don't necessarily think this is indicative of anything," said State. Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat from Chicago. "I am hearing from a lot of communities that want to know more, that want to get model ordinances from us and ideas of how best to implement it. I think folks are doing their best due diligence on both sides."

However, Naperville Councilman Kevin Coyne, who led the effort to prevent the sale of recreational marijuana in the city, said he believes more municipalities will say "no."

"I do feel this should not belong in the suburbs," Coyne said.

The main concerns are a potential increase in traffic crashes, use among teens and consumption of harder drugs, Coyne said. If none of that pans out, he's open to revisiting the issue in the future, he said.

"There are people who say they simply don't agree marijuana is harmful," Coyne said. "I'm not willing to ignore the opinions of many experts."

In Lake Barrington, Village Administrator Karen Daulton Lange said the board wants to preserve the village as a quiet community.

"Our residents have made it very clear that their desire is to maintain a peaceful atmosphere," she said. "I don't think our residents see marijuana sales as consistent with that atmosphere."

But South Elgin Village President Steve Ward said it's all about being realistic and having local control.

"It's going to be legal, so why should we step aside?" he said. "I know it's not a great thing. But we've come a long way in the world, and marijuana is not the worst thing in the world. To me, it's no different than alcohol."

Elburn Village President Jeff Walter agreed. "If someone wants to invest in Elburn with that kind of shop and it's legal, they can invest."

Walter also pointed out that Elburn and other suburbs at first shunned video gambling, which went live in 2012, then gradually changed their minds as surrounding communities allowed it.

The possession and consumption of cannabis by people 21 and over, currently legal in 10 states, will be legal in Illinois starting Jan. 1. The state will issue up to 75 retail dispensary licenses, including 47 in the Chicago metro area, before May 1. Existing medical cannabis dispensaries can apply for early approval licenses to either sell recreational marijuana on site or at a different location. Up to 110 licenses will be available by December 2021.

The Illinois Department of Revenue projects recreational marijuana, including sellers and growers, will generate more than $57 million in tax revenues and licensing fees this fiscal year. Tax revenues will generate $140.5 million in 2021 and gradually increase to $375.5 million in 2024, estimates say. Those projections are based on population and usage rates, Cassidy said.

Municipalities can choose to not allow marijuana stores within their boundaries, or can enact "reasonable" zoning ordinances and regulate how many and where they are located. That can include minimum distances from "sensitive" locations such as colleges and universities, the law states.

Marijuana retail locations cannot be placed within 1,500 feet of each other and advertisement is prohibited within 1,000 feet of school grounds, parks and playgrounds, recreation and child care centers, public libraries, and game arcades with people under 21.

The discussions held by suburban elected officials mostly have been prompted by staff members, some of whom, such as in South Elgin, have fielded calls from people interested in opening marijuana businesses.

Arlington Heights staff members said they also got calls and are gathering information to present to the board, possibly next month. "We may present some different alternatives, and they will discuss what they want to do with it," said Robin Ward, in-house counsel for the village. "It's definitely one of those subjects we need board direction."

In Des Plaines, council members said they want to know exactly what the law allows municipalities to regulate before making a decision, City Manager Mike Bartholomew said.

In Libertyville, the village board directed the plan commission to hold a public hearing Aug. 26 about possible zoning changes related to marijuana sales. Bartlett's village board directed staff to research how comparably sized communities have regulated marijuana sales in states where it's legal, and what public health and safety impacts they've seen.

A total 8% of state revenues from marijuana will be distributed among local governments on a per capita basis to support law enforcement and prevention of illegal sales and driving under the influence of cannabis. Municipalities that allow marijuana sales can impose local sales taxes up to 3%.

Elburn's village president said he favors funding parks and recreation with some of those revenues; South Elgin's village president said the money might be allocated to the police department.

Bloomingdale Village Trustee Frank Bucaro said he's perfectly OK not getting additional revenues because he believes recreational marijuana will bring about a slew of negative consequences, particularly for youth.

"How do you put a dollar amount on that?" Bucaro said.

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  South Elgin Village President Steve Ward, here at his barber shop in Elgin, said allowing sales of recreational marijuana is about being realistic. "It's going to be legal, so why should we step aside?" he said. More from Ward at Brian Hill/
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