St. Charles leaning toward allowing 2 recreational pot businesses

A majority of St. Charles aldermen have expressed early support for allowing up to two recreational cannabis dispensaries to operate in the city, as long as they're linked to an established medical marijuana facility.

With a new state law going into effect Jan. 1, Alderman Lora Vitek made a motion Monday to begin the process of amending the city's zoning code to permit the retail sales of recreational marijuana in St. Charles.

Her proposal had several provisions, including limiting dispensaries to the community business and regional business zoning districts; allowing no more than two dispensaries, one on either side of the Fox River; and requiring any business to also have operated a licensed medical marijuana dispensary for at least two years. It also would prohibit on-premise consumption lounges and production distribution facilities.

The government operations committee voted 6-3 to city direct staff members to begin the zoning process, which includes bringing the proposed measure to the plan commission and holding a public hearing. It would then go to the planning and development committee before a final decision is made by the city council.

Vitek's motion was made after a presentation from Zen Leaf, a medical marijuana dispensary in St. Charles that has expressed interest in also selling for recreational purposes. If St. Charles chose to ban sales, Zen Leaf "would be forced from a business perspective" to explore opportunities elsewhere, said Anthony Marsico, executive vice president of retail.

Under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, Illinois residents 21 and older can possess up to 30 grams of the cannabis flower, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate, and 500 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Only medical marijuana patients can grow plants at home.

Towns that allow cannabis sales can impose a tax of up to 3%, plus other local sales taxes in place. That means St. Charles could collect up to 5% of recreational marijuana sales, Finance Director Chris Minick said.

Recreational marijuana use will be present in St. Charles regardless of whether the city allows it to be sold, Alderman Dan Stellato said. If residents can't buy it in town, he said, there's nothing stopping them from going to a nearby community that does approve sales, such as South Elgin or Elburn.

"It's here whether we like it or not," Stellato said. "We can control this with zoning regulations."

Alderman Todd Bancroft said he wants to make sure medical marijuana is still available for the residents who need it.

"If the way to do that is to follow state law and allow for recreational sales to make sure a responsible, great vendor of ours stays in our community and serves our community, we should do it," he said.

Several residents also spoke in support of Zen Leaf and its proposed business operations.

Alderman Ron Silkaitis, however, took issue with the fact that recreational cannabis is not legal at the federal level. He voted against the motion, saying he's not comfortable moving forward until the disconnect between the state and federal governments is resolved.

Aldermen Rita Payleitner and Art Lemke also voted "no," with Payleitner saying she wasn't prepared to consider such specific provisions.

"I'd like us to take a pause," she said before the motion was made. "If we as a council see fit on moving forward, I'd like assurances that we're doing so with our eyes wide open. I'd like us to be more thoughtful in our decision process."

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