How St. Charles' decision on pot sales could affect medical dispensary
A St. Charles medical marijuana dispensary likely would move to another community if the city chooses not to allow recreational cannabis sales, company leaders said.
But implementing such a ban doesn't appear to be of interest to a majority of aldermen, who indicated a desire Monday to update the city's zoning code and keep Zen Leaf in town.
Under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which goes into effect Jan. 1, the state's 55 licensed medical cannabis dispensaries will be authorized to sell recreational marijuana under the same roof. They also could open a second facility that is recreational only.
Zen Leaf leaders intend to pursue that business venture, and they'd prefer to do so in St. Charles, Anthony Marsico, executive vice president of retail, said. But the company can't move forward unless the city council approves appropriate zoning regulations.
"We want to be here in St. Charles. I want to make that very clear," Marsico told aldermen Monday. But if the city chooses to opt out, he says, "we'd probably explore options to move to a municipality where we have the opportunity to sell both."
St. Charles aldermen voted 6-3 Monday to begin the zoning process for allowing up to two recreational dispensaries to open in the city, as long as they're tied to a medical cannabis business that has been operating for at least two years.
The motion made by Alderman Lora Vitek would limit the dispensaries to the community business and regional business zoning districts and require the two facilities to be on opposite sides of the Fox River. On-premise consumption lounges and production distribution centers would be prohibited.
If the measure is ultimately passed by the city council, Zen Leaf would have to move out of its existing location at 3714 Illinois Ave., which is in a limited manufacturing zoning district, in order to sell recreationally. Marsico said the company has been exploring other sites in the city that have more parking and could accommodate heightened traffic.
Zen Leaf currently sees between 120 and 250 medical marijuana patients per day, Marsico added, noting the number of customers is expected to jump significantly with recreational sales.
When the law goes into effect, 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.
The state law has several provisions to ensure each recreational dispensary has adequate safety measures, appropriate customer flow protocol and training for employees, Marsico said. Zen Leaf has already begun updating its standard operating procedures to adhere to the stringent guidelines and to prioritize medical patients, he said.
Even so, Alderman Ron Silkaitis said he's concerned that recreational cannabis is not legal at the federal level.
"I'm not comfortable with violating federal law just so that you can make more money," he said.
Several community members spoke in support of Zen Leaf, saying its medical marijuana operations have helped suburban patients deal with pain, illnesses and other conditions.
Medical marijuana patient Rick Carlino of St. Charles said he went through a lengthy and expensive process to enter the program. Allowing recreational sales could make the product more accessible for people who need it, while also helping to mitigate the stigma associated with cannabis use, he said.
Alderman Rita Payleitner voted against Vitek's motion, saying she wasn't prepared to approve such specific provisions. But she echoed several aldermen in their support for Zen Leaf.
"I see the value of medicinal cannabis, and I'd like to see it stay," she said.
Marsico said recreational marijuana will be present in St. Charles regardless of the city's decision on sales.
"I think we have an opportunity here in St. Charles to allow a new source of sales tax revenues to the city with an operator like ourselves," he said. "We want to partner with the city to work through any other concerns, and hopefully we can come to a resolution."