Naperville says no to recreational pot for now, while voters could get a say on it later

Naperville City Council members voted late Tuesday night to prohibit sales of recreational marijuana, but they also expressed support for a plan to let voters revisit the topic with a future ballot question.

Council members voted 6-3 to ban all types of recreational marijuana businesses and to ask staff members to develop the language of a referendum question, which they can consider putting on a later ballot.

Mayor Steve Chirico and council members Theresa Sullivan and Judith Brodhead voted against the decision, with each of them saying they supported the idea but wanted to commit to placing a referendum on the March 17 ballot instead of leaving the date open.

Several council members said the marijuana issue became hotly controversial during the past few months, so preventing recreational sales for now will allow for healing from division.

"For the culture of Naperville to go back to being Naperville, I will opt out," council member John Krummen said.

The city's new ordinance banning recreational marijuana sales is based on a model prepared by the Illinois Municipal League. It prohibits all cannabis-related businesses, other than those operating under the state's medical cannabis law.

3C Compassionate Care Center, a medical marijuana dispensary on Quincy Avenue, will be allowed to continue its medical operation but is not permitted to sell the drug for recreational use at its Naperville shop or any other site in town.

The business recently was granted one of the first recreational dispensary licenses from the state, but state regulations say businesses must follow all municipal zoning rules and other local laws.

The vote to opt out came after the council listened to 238 speakers who signed up to share their views during a roughly four-hour discussion. The majority of speakers asked the council to prohibit recreational sales.

Supporters of recreational dispensaries said marijuana sales would not bring drastic dangers to town, and a state-licensed seller would be safer than a black-market dealer for those who choose to use.

"My vote to opt in is a vote for control," resident Lyndsey Kokoris said.

The council did not set a date for a referendum, but several members said they are committed to bringing the issue to voters on an upcoming ballot.

The referendum would be nonbinding. But at least three council members and Chirico said they would take action to follow a public vote, no matter which way it falls.

"Although I would prefer opt in, I am certainly supportive of opting out and having a referendum," Brodhead said. "Here's our chance to have everybody opt in and really get a sense of what the residents are looking for."

The council plans to begin discussing a referendum within 60 days, likely at its Nov. 5 meeting, City Attorney Mike DiSanto said.

Had the council allowed recreational sales, officials estimated the city would receive $475,000 in tax revenue for every $10 million in dispensary sales.

Many speakers called that funding insignificant in a city with a 2019 operating budget of roughly $450 million.

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