Elgin council leans toward 'yes' on marijuana sales in town

The Elgin City Council had its first discussion about whether to allow recreational marijuana sales in town, and a majority of members said they are inclined to say "yes."

City staff members will draft ordinance proposals addressing zoning, regulations and taxes regarding the sale of marijuana. The process will entail a public hearing before the planning and zoning commission and a final vote by the city council.

The possession and consumption of marijuana by people 21 and older will be legal in Illinois starting Jan. 1.

"It's an interesting and difficult decision," Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger said at a meeting Wednesday. "I feel we already opted in. The state has opted in. Whether you can buy the cannabis in Elgin or you can buy it outside, people in Elgin will still be doing it."

Mayor David Kaptain agreed. "My heart tells me to opt out, but the state tells us to opt in," he said.

Councilman Terry Gavin said he read a lot about marijuana legalization across the country, in addition to the extensive research done by city staff members, and agreed that allowing marijuana shops is reasonable.

"We've been fighting this war on drugs for decades. It's not working very well," he said.

Councilwoman Rose Martinez warned that "if we are going to go ahead with something like this, we are going to have to proceed with caution."

Councilman Baldemar Lopez said he wanted more information, such as input from mental health professionals, before making up his mind.

The only dissenting voice was Councilman Toby Shaw, who said he was shocked at how many states - Illinois will be the 11th - are legalizing recreational marijuana.

"I'm concerned about the direction of where we are going as a state," Shaw said. "I think it's wise to opt out."

Elgin should impose the full 3% local sales tax in order to maximize any gains from marijuana and funnel the money back into law enforcement, several council members said. A majority also agreed not to allow so-called marijuana "lounges" where people can smoke on premises.

The law says marijuana shops should be at least 1,500 feet apart, which might not be enough, Kaptain said.

"I don't want to see these clusters in any one neighborhood or any one area if we can avoid it," he said.

Police Deputy Chief Colin Fleury said the main concerns are the potential for increased drug consumption among teenagers and traffic crashes related to driving under the influence of marijuana. The police department plans to have more officers go through training for advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement and to become certified drug recognition experts.

The state will issue up to 75 retail marijuana licenses, including 47 in the Chicago metro area, before May 1.

Naperville voted to ban recreational marijuana sales with a plan to have a referendum at some point, and Grayslake banned sales until at least 2021. Arlington Heights, South Elgin, Wauconda, Elburn and Buffalo Grove preliminarily indicated they are open to allowing recreational marijuana sales.

Recreational marijuana, including sellers and growers, is projected to generate more than $57 million in tax revenues and licensing fees this fiscal year, and more in years to come. 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.

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Elgin Councilman Toby Shaw: "I'm concerned about the direction of where we are going as a state. I think it's wise to opt out."
  Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain: "My heart tells me to opt out, but the state tells us to opt in." Brian Hill/
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