Libertyville bans pot sales, saying revenue wouldn't outweigh pitfalls

The Libertyville village board Tuesday unanimously voted to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana in town, deciding the promise of additional revenue would not offset potential pitfalls.

State law authorizes the production, sale and use of recreational marijuana beginning Jan. 1, and gives local governments the authority to impose additional taxes on sales. But towns also can opt out and ban sales.

"The only reason I can find for approving recreational marijuana is the tax revenue it would generate, and that number is very elusive," Mayor Terry Weppler told an audience of about 50 before the vote Tuesday.

All six trustees expressed similar sentiment. They cited concerns such as the potential risks to children and adolescents; how it would reflect on the town's family image and values; the lack of effective testing for driving while impaired, which could lead to enforcement difficulties and potential legal costs; and public sentiment against the measure.

"I just need to do my job, which is represent the strong majority who prefer recreational marijuana dispensaries be prohibited," said Trustee Pat Carey, the village's former longtime police chief.

"There are too many downsides here," added Trustee Pete Garrity. "I'm not sure what the financial gain would be of having a dispensary in town. There are many unknowns."

Trustees in May urged state legislators to slow the process and approved a resolution opposing the legalization of marijuana for nonmedical uses. It asserted that "social costs appear to far outweigh any short-term revenue gains."

After the voluminous Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act was signed in June by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, trustees directed the village's plan commission to hold a public hearing to gauge public opinion.

Two sessions were well-attended and dozens spoke on the topic. Information presented to the plan commission showed Libertyville could expect about $80,000 to $100,000 in annual revenue by allowing marijuana sales.

Trustees also reviewed a substantial amount of information, including resident emails Weppler said tallied nearly 3 to 1 against.

The board was prepared to hear further public comment Tuesday night and expected a lengthy meeting, But the pre-vote statements by Weppler and trustees served as a preemptive strike and only three people addressed the board.

"Our reputation, our image is not for sale," said resident Frank Berardi, who praised village officials for cultivating that over the years.

"This is far more complicated than pie-in-the-sky projections of revenue," said Barbara Shafer, who has extensively researched the topic. She said the most sensible approach would be to opt out and see how things shake out elsewhere.

Chip Hoska, an 11-year resident who uses marijuana for medical purposes, said Libertyville has an opportunity to be innovative. Trustee Donna Johnson said she recognizes the benefits of medical use but there are gaps to be filled in how recreational marijuana could be integrated into the community.

Libertyville's decision was part of an active two days in the suburbs as communities determine their stances in advance of Jan. 1.

The DuPage County Board voted 10-8 Tuesday to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana in unincorporated areas, citing adverse impacts on public health and "additional costs and burdens" on law enforcement and the court system.

On the other hand, St. Charles aldermen voted 6-3 Monday to permit up to two cannabis retailers in town; Aurora aldermen voted 9-1 Tuesday to allow the businesses as special uses; and Buffalo Grove trustees, after 4½ hours of comment by residents, approved zoning regulations to allow recreational marijuana businesses to operate.

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