Editorial: Join the debates over retail pot sales

Should our communities allow sales of recreational marijuana? It's a simple question with a not-so-simple answer.

Recreational pot becomes part of the suburban landscape Jan. 1 when a new statewide law goes begins allowing those 21 and older to possess up to 30 grams of the cannabis flower, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate and 500 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Many of our communities are debating whether to allow the sale of legal pot within their borders. Those public hearings are an opportunity for residents to learn about the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act and how it will affect local policies and resources. More important, they give you the chance to have your voice heard.

Make no mistake, the law will have an impact - heightening the need to educate yourself and participate in the local decision.

"I don't want our citizenry to think ... the use of recreational marijuana won't exist in our community in January, because it will," St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina said at the city's first of at least two planned community discussions this month. "We have to deal with the law whether we pass (a measure allowing sales) or not pass it."

That's because municipalities will have no control over limiting recreational use - adults will be free to light up a doobie or eat a gummy if they choose. Towns do have options to regulate the zoning of dispensaries and lounges. Officials can decide when, where and how many are allowed to operate, or they can choose to ban sales altogether.

Several are tackling the issue. South Elgin and Elburn have said they're OK with allowing one marijuana retail store. Naperville and Bloomingdale plan to ban sales. Others are in various stages of study.

It is true that even if some towns ban pot sales, every community will face a host of issues, many without clear answers. For example, police will have to deal with impaired drivers, and the fact there's no effective roadside field sobriety and chemical testing available yet. No one is sure whether use by teenagers, who can't legally buy pot, will go up, down or stay the same. There are questions about recreational marijuana leading to consumption of hard drugs and whether drug addiction rates will rise.

There's also an economic impact that could cloud local decisions. The state expects legalized pot could generate $57 million in tax revenue and licensing fees this fiscal year. A portion - 8% - will be distributed among local governments on a per capita basis to help offset costs associated with legalizing marijuana. Municipalities that allow sales can impose local sales taxes up to 3%.

We recognize these points and the distinction Rogina makes, but we still urge communities to resist the temptation to secure some windfall pot money or to buckle under the pressure of neighbors who don't. We encourage communities to at least set strict limits on how, when and where marijuana can be sold. It will be up to local officials to determine how marijuana retailers will affect the community, and it will be important for you to help them understand what you want to see.

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