Gurnee surveying residents before deciding on marijuana sales

Gurnee officials will survey residents before determining whether to allow recreational marijuana sales in the village when its use becomes legal Jan. 1.

Village leaders, residents and representatives of marijuana-related companies held a lively debate on the issue at Monday's village board meeting.

Gurnee, like other communities across Illinois, is deciding whether, and under what circumstances, to allow the sale of recreational marijuana once its use becomes legal for adults in Illinois. Under state law, municipalities can ban sales within their jurisdictions or place restrictions on the number of sellers and where they can be located.

Towns that allow it can impose up to a 3% tax.

"The (law) does provide municipalities with an opt-out provision," Village Attorney Brian Winter said at the start of Monday's discussion. "One of the purposes of tonight is to decide whether the village wants to opt out."

Among the concerns raised by those opposing sales in Gurnee is the potential of more intoxicated drivers. Colorado, Washington and Oregon have all seen an increase in DUIs since legalization, they said.

"The illegal market is still thriving, despite the existence of a legal industry," added Jason Zell, a junior at Stevenson High School. "Is that really business that we want to bring in to our community?"

Jeff Olsen, a Lake County resident who wants to open a recreational marijuana dispensary, said his business would promote responsible use by adults only.

"We have children who we want to make sure these products do not get into their hands," he said.

Trustees said they would hold off on a formal decision until at least October, when they can review the results of a recently launched online survey at

Mayor Kristina Kovarik said the village also will mail a survey to residents.

"Once we give the board the results, they may be more willing to make a decision," she said.

Some trustees who spoke on the issue Monday leaned toward banning sales.

"I am a child of the 60s and ... if you have some good stuff, it puts you out," Trustee Jeanne Balmes said. "At this point, I would tend to be opting out."

Trustee Quin O'Brien said he'd done a lot of research on the topic and was still undecided.

"If we're going to have costs because of other communities allowing it, maybe we should have it, and have the 3% on sales," he said. "I don't know the answer, but I sure wish Gov. Pritzker hadn't done that."

Kovarik said she worries about the message it would send to young people to allow the dispensaries in Gurnee.

"I don't think it fits our image," she said. "And again, we have to protect our children."

Still, the board opted for a slow approach, delaying any decision until after they've seen the survey results.

"This could have a major impact on the community, and we need to do our due diligence," Kovarik said.

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