Wheaton votes to prohibit recreational marijuana sales

Wheaton has joined a growing a list of DuPage County towns that are banning the sale of recreational marijuana in their communities.

The Wheaton City Council on Monday night unanimously approved a text amendment prohibiting "cannabis business establishments" as defined by Illinois' Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, including cultivation centers, craft growers and dispensing organizations.

Councilwoman Erica Bray-Parker said before the vote that there are "many unknowns" about how communities will be impacted by the state law, which will make recreational use and possession of marijuana by adults legal across Illinois beginning Jan. 1.

"Wheaton residents are just not ready to be an early adopter, like some of our neighbors, in the sales aspect of this law," Bray-Parker said.

Monday's vote came six weeks after Wheaton held a public hearing, where council members heard from residents for and against allowing pot shops. At the time, some council members said they wanted to take a wait-and-see approach, indicating they could revisit public health and safety questions once the market establishes itself in towns that allow dispensaries.

Municipalities in Illinois can place local sales taxes of up to 3% on recreational marijuana sales.

But Councilman Christopher Zaruba said on Monday that Wheaton currently doesn't need the additional tax revenue that recreational marijuana dispensaries would bring.

"The sale of cannabis isn't going to make or break the budget," he said.

So Wheaton can afford to opt out now and "review and observe" what happens in surrounding municipalities. Zaruba said the city still has the ability to opt in sometime in the future.

Moving forward, Bray-Parker said city staff should monitor both the tax revenue portion and the enforcement portion of the state law.

She said the council should revisit the issue in a year after officials have collected at least six months of "more concrete data."

Medical marijuana dispensaries have been allowed under city zoning rules since 2013, but there aren't any in town, officials said.

The state is expected to issue up to 47 retail dispensary licenses in the Chicago 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.

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