Deer Park to allow recreational pot shops

More than a year after being legalized in Illinois, cannabis dispensaries catering to recreational users now are welcome in Deer Park.

A divided village board on Thursday night voted to amend the local zoning code to allow pot shops in town, essentially striking down a local ban. A board-approved special-use permit will be required for a shop to open.

Officials also agreed to limit dispensary operations to a southern segment of the business district along Rand Road, south of the Deer Park Town Center mall.

Before the vote, Village Administrator Beth McAndrews insisted there are no plans to open a dispensary in Deer Park.

"We don't know if a dispensary will ever come here," she said.

The move followed weeks of public discussions and a public-information campaign in the village.

It also followed a "no" recommendation from Deer Park's planning and zoning commission, which advises the village board. That recommendation came after a public hearing in December.

As Thursday's meeting was held remotely because of the COVID-19 crisis, McAndrews read emails and letters from residents opposed to and supporting the plan before the vote. Most opposed the concept, citing concerns about crime and the village's reputation.

She also read a long letter from Trustee David Lemme, who urged the panel to defer a vote and suggested putting an advisory referendum about the plan on the April ballot.

Lemme was the only trustee to vote against the plan. Trustee James Oakley abstained, saying the board should take more time to consider the issue.

The remaining four trustees - Michael Mann, Keith Olson, Victoria Zimmerman and Jodie Johnson - supported the plan.

Mann said officials need to consider how the retail industry is changing, and he questioned what the village's business community might look like in five years.

"We've got to think out of the box," Mann said.

The sale and use of recreational cannabis have been legal in Illinois since January 2020.

State law allows individual municipalities to permit or ban such businesses and to restrict their operations.

Even though Deer Park has no pot stores, the village board in November approved a 3% tax on all marijuana-related sales other than those for medical purposes.

Medical marijuana is subject to a 1% sales tax in Illinois.

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