Arlington Heights poised to reverse ban on recreational pot sales

In a reversal, Arlington Heights trustees are now poised to allow the sale of recreational marijuana, at least to start, at the existing medical pot dispensary in town.

Board members Monday endorsed a proposed pilot program that would allow Verilife, at 1816 S. Arlington Heights Road, to begin selling to recreational users for a yet-to-be-determined amount of time. The committee-level board vote held virtually Monday night directs village staff to begin formal discussions with Verilife brass, who for months continued to lobby board members to reverse the ban imposed last November.

The pilot agreement with Verilife will come back to the board for a formal vote before October. The board could later decide to extend the pilot program at Verilife, or even expand the number of recreational pot dispensaries to perhaps as many as three villagewide.

But for now, even trustees who were on the fence or outright opposed to allowing recreational marijuana sales last summer and fall said state revenue numbers since the Jan. 1 legalization were too much to pass up. Arlington Heights staff projections show one dispensary could generate $400,000 to $500,000 for village coffers per year. That amount of money would otherwise equate to a 1.5% property tax levy increase.

“Part of my responsibility is to be concerned about revenue sources and ways to reduce our part of the property tax burden on our residents,” said Trustee Robin LaBedz, one of the original “no” votes who recently asked the issue to be reconsidered.

All eight trustees voted in favor of allowing Verilife to sell recreational marijuana under a pilot program, giving the village time to review real revenue numbers. That was the original suggestion of Trustee Mary Beth Canty during the board's contentious debate last November.

The lone “no” vote Monday came from Mayor Tom Hayes, who remained steadfast in his opposition and argued that the recreational marijuana ban “has been an enhancement to our reputation as a family-oriented community.”

“I believe it is important for us to send a message to our children, and what message would it send to our children if we believe something is inherently wrong, but we look the other way just because the amount of money we're going to receive from it?” Hayes said.

In written comments read before the board's vote, Jeremy Unruh, director of public and regulatory affairs at Verilife's parent company PharmaCann, called the village's ban “the worst form of tone-deafness.”

“It is the perpetuation of archaic, biased thinking that considers horse racing, gambling, alcohol and sex shops to be consistent with the brand of Arlington Heights, but can't fathom the notion of the regulated sale of a substance that's been legalized by the state legislature and is by all accounts less harmful to the public than alcohol abuse and gambling addiction and is intended to displace the unregulated, illicit market,” Unruh wrote.

Hayes said he was personally offended by the allegation of sex shops in town. The mayor also argued there's a big difference among alcohol, gambling and marijuana, as the latter was just legalized in Illinois while the others have been here for some time.

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