Recreational marijuana sales to be on November ballot in Batavia
After hearing from nearly two dozen residents and all of the aldermen, Batavia officials say they will let residents decide if they want to allow recreational cannabis dispensaries in the city.
During a committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, the city council decided to place a binding referendum question on the November 2020 ballot asking residents about permitting such facilities in Batavia.
City Administrator Laura Newman said it was too late to get the question on the primary election ballot in March.
The council discussion began after 22 residents had their say, some claiming the additional tax revenue is the only reason the city would allow the dispensaries.
"I don't give a lick about the dollar portion of it," Alderman Marty Callahan said. "It is (already) in the community. How do you protect residents? You regulate it."
Alderman Micheal O'Brien recalled how, during budget discussions, the council fought hard to avoid raising taxes. But he said his concern is with Batavia's youth.
"I'm a hard 'no' vote on this," he said. "As much as we need the money, this is a poor source for it. We can't do it to our youth."
Alderman Nick Cerone agreed.
"The main thing with me is the message," he said. "Let (kids) know it's not OK."
Alderman Dan Chanzit compared cannabis to alcohol. He pointed out that earlier in the evening the committee had moved two new liquor license requests to city council for approval.
"Where was the outrage (about the liquor licenses)?" he asked.
Cerone said the council should not rush into a decision.
"You can always add it later, but once you add it, you can't take it back," he said.
But Alderman Mike Russotto said the council "put the pause on this already" when it discussed recreational cannabis in August. He said the city probably won't be dealing with the issue until at least 2021.
Alderman Alan Wolff said the chances of Batavia getting a dispensary at this time are very slim. He said there haven't been many inquiries about opening a facility.
"Our zoning code allows for medical facilities and no one is knocking down our doors (to open a dispensary)," Newman said.
During the discussion in August, Mayor Jeff Schielke said he would veto the decision if the city council voted to allow recreational cannabis in Batavia.
On Tuesday, Schielke said a referendum question would leave it up to "the will of the people" to decide.
"Put it out there and let the people say what they want to do," he said. "I commend your idea of having the people make the decision."