Rally urges Naperville to 'opt out' of legalized marijuana sales

Close to 200 Naperville residents opposed to the possibility of the city eventually allowing the sale of recreational marijuana held a rally downtown Saturday urging city officials to "opt out."

"Naperville has built its reputation over the years as a family friendly community," said Jennifer Bruzan Taylor, one of the rally's organizers. "There is nothing family friendly about marijuana."

Speakers at the rally included doctors, city council members, parents and community organizers who said the city would see a rise in crime, drug use by youths and mental health problems if recreational sales of marijuana were allowed.

"We've heard from expert after expert you get expanded drug use, especially among young people, in communities that allow marijuana sales," said Naperville City Councilman Kevin Coyne.

However, Dan Allen challenged those beliefs and called the opposition to legalized marijuana "fear-based." Allen was the lone counterprotester at the rally, saying that the drug had helped him with his anxiety and other medical maladies.

"Fear is a drug that Americans are imbibing at a heavy pace," Allen said. "I've experienced the benefits of marijuana and there's been a lot of studies showing the use helps get people off other heavier, more dangerous drugs like opioids."

Naperville officials have estimated that a store would have to generate $10 million in sales annually for the city to receive $475,000 in tax revenue.

In Colorado, where recreational use of marijuana has been legal for more than five years, the state took in more than $266 million in revenue from marijuana sales in 2018. With roughly 570 licensed retail shops statewide, the average Colorado store was responsible for almost $470,000 in tax, fee and license revenue.

But opponents don't see this as a tax issue, but rather one of morality.

"I think tax revenue and doing the right thing are two different issues," said longtime Naperville resident Ed Neill. "If someone believes that it leads to bad things, then the city should opt out and everything I've ever read says it leads to bad things."

The rally was held in downtown's Central Park a few blocks away from the city's nightclub district. Naperville police often have to add extra patrols on the weekends in an effort to curb misbehavior by bar patrons. In the past, police ran sting operations intended to catch violators urinating in the city's parking garages as well.

"I'm not happy with all the bars either and I think that's a mess, but now you'd be compounding it with marijuana sales," said Naperville resident Kay Irwin.

Naperville's city council is expected to vote on allowing recreational sales in the coming months ahead of statewide legalization Jan. 1.

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  Naperville resident Dan Allen, middle, was the lone counterprotester at Saturday's rally in Naperville's Central Park organized by residents opposed to the city allowing recreational marijuana sales. Jake Griffin/
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