Allow sales or 'incur pain'? Suburbs weighing legal pot shop regulations
Recreational use of marijuana will be legal in Illinois come Jan. 1, but whether pot can be sold in our backyards is up to local officials.
Each community has the authority to allow retail shops to sell marijuana under the new law or to opt out and prohibit sales.
The decision already is on the minds of city council and village board members from Round Lake Beach to Naperville and from Elgin to Arlington Heights, as elected officials adjust to the coming reality of legal weed. Because whether or not towns allow the sale of pot, they can do nothing to ban residents from using or possessing it.
Naperville City Council member Kevin Coyne, for one, said he's heard from residents who don't think recreational marijuana is a big deal and see no need to prohibit sales.
But he's also heard from others who are "very upset that marijuana appears to be legalized." The feedback, he said, tells him local sales will be a hot topic.
"If we don't opt out," he said, during a panel discussion about a week after the law was passed, "how do we go about regulating the sale?"
The ability to oversee pot sales in many cases will come down to location, location, location.
State and municipal leaders say towns will be able to set zoning standards on the number of shops they'll allow and where they can operate. By setting the number to zero, towns can prohibit the new industry from opening in their jurisdictions. Many municipalities in some of the 10 states that have legalized recreational marijuana, such as Colorado, Florida and Washington, have chosen to prohibit sales.
But state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, an Elmhurst Republican who opposed the legalization measure, said the law still leaves homeowners without "many rights," such as a way to prevent their neighbors from growing marijuana plants in their yards. Medical users will be able to grow at home, but recreational users will not.
"Even to the extent it allows for some zoning control at the municipal level, it doesn't involve much control at the truly local level -- as in your own streets, your homes, your neighborhoods," she said.
With the law effective in less than seven months, leaders are weighing their options.
Money and image
Allow pot sales and towns can see additional sales tax revenue, especially because any municipality that welcomes retailers can tack on a local sales tax of up to 3%. Prohibit sales and "the pain you incur as a community," as Coyne described it, is a lack of additional tax revenue to help with the potential increased strain on police, mental health and social services.
Some officials don't see the point of keeping legal pot shops out of their towns once recreational use begins.
"Our residents would just buy it elsewhere, so it would still be used by our residents," Round Lake Beach Mayor Richard Hill said. "We would just not get the benefit of the sales taxes to help offset law enforcement expenses."
More than money will enter into the discussion about legal weed sellers. Patty Gustin, a Naperville City Council member who co-hosted a panel about the topic with Coyne, said it's about community image and reputation, too.
In Elgin, Mayor David Kaptain said he worries about the hidden costs of legalization, such as whether it might increase drug addiction. Elgin is a regional hub for social service and mental health agencies, which will lead people to seek help there, he said.
"If they have an addiction problem from a smaller community, they come to Elgin to get help ... and how do we pay for that?" he said. "The financial burden can fall on us."
Mayor Tom Hayes said Arlington Heights lobbied legislators to allow municipalities to license marijuana sellers, just as they do with liquor businesses, to give them further control over issues other than zoning.
"If I had my druthers, personally I'm not in favor of recreational marijuana use," Hayes said, "but that's something we didn't have a whole lot of say in."
A familiar path
State Sen. John Curran, a Downers Grove Republican who opposed legalization, and state Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat who voted in favor, both said the rollout of marijuana stores could mirror the expansion of video gambling facilities.
Originally banned from many communities, such establishments started to become ubiquitous when local officials -- possibly seeing the success in other towns -- changed their minds.
Curran said he anticipates many communities will start by banning retail sales to see how it works elsewhere, gain a comfort level and then decide.
State Sen. Laura Ellman, a Naperville Democrat who supported legalization, also predicts towns will wait to see how the marijuana market takes shape.
"Everybody's got a vision for what they want their city to be, and this could be quite a change for a lot of the towns in my district," Ellman said. "So they've got a lot to think about and consider and get public opinion on."
The bottom line, Elgin's Kaptain said, is if surrounding towns allow marijuana sales, it will be hard for once-resistant places to argue they shouldn't reap the benefits, too.
"Sooner or later, people will say, 'Well, everyone around us has it, so we should allow it as well," Kaptain said.
As communities seek feedback, anti-drug advocates say any move to limit exposure to marijuana by people younger than 21 could decrease the likelihood of addiction.
"We need to fight against this huge wave and groundswell of cultural acceptance and permissiveness that it's OK," said Matthew Quinn, community relations coordinator for Rosecrance nonprofit treatment centers.
By preventing sales, a community can decrease the pervasiveness of places to buy a drug that is the second-most abused substance among adults treated at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health in Naperville, said Dr. Aaron Weiner, director of addiction services.
"We don't have that legal deterrent anymore," Weiner said. "But we can still lower our risk."
With competing interests of youth drug prevention, mental health, community culture, finances and economic development all at play, state legislators predict discussions about the laws surrounding marijuana are far from over. They're just shifting to a council chamber closer to home.
"I think we'll start seeing it pop up on village board radars," Cullerton said, "for how to deal with it."
• Daily Herald staff writers Mick Zawislak, Elena Ferrarin and Christopher Placek contributed to this report.