Naperville split over when to ask voters about recreational pot sales

  • Naperville plans to put the issue of recreational marijuana sales to voters in an advisory referendum, but the question is, when?

    Naperville plans to put the issue of recreational marijuana sales to voters in an advisory referendum, but the question is, when? Associated Press file photo

 
 
Posted10/2/2019 5:30 AM

Naperville plans to put the issue of recreational marijuana sales to voters in an advisory referendum, but the question is, when?

The council heard Tuesday evening from seven residents urging expedience in asking whether to allow pot shops in town on the March 17, 2020, primary ballot. One resident spoke in opposition to the March date, suggesting instead the general election on Nov. 3.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And this was all without anything related to marijuana sales on the council's agenda.

An agenda item for discussion of referendum wording and timing is expected for the council's next meeting, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St.

But in an illustration of how divisive the issue of pot sales has become in the state's fourth-largest city, one member of the council -- Kevin Coyne -- expressed a difference of opinion about when the referendum placement discussion should take place. He suggested Nov. 5. But that idea was rejected, with the majority of members saying two weeks is plenty of time to give public notice about the plan to consider the topic.

Supporters of asking the ballot question as soon as possible said doing so would allow the city -- if voters say they want to permit recreational marijuana sales -- to file paperwork with the state Department of Revenue in time to begin collecting taxes on pot Sept. 1, 2020, which is as early as possible under state law.

"I think it would be doing the community a disservice by delaying the vote," resident Lyndsey Kokoris said. "Both sides are clearly passionate and firm in their decision. Let the people decide in March and stop the division."

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March referendum supporter Jean Page blamed some of the division on social stigmas related to marijuana use, but said those opinions are fading.

"Our culture sees a tumbler of Scotch whisky in a lawyer's office as elegant, and the culture seems a cloud of cannabis smoke as dirty. The division is part of our culture," Page said. "But culture moves. It has already moved regarding cannabis."

Speaking in favor of asking voters about pot sales on Nov. 3 was Jennifer Bruzan Taylor, a leader of the Opt Out Naperville group, which opposes allowing any shops made legal starting Jan. 1 under the state's Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act to open in Naperville.

Bruzan Taylor said the general election is the most logical time to achieve the highest voter participation.

"If you want a true, representative sample of what the people in Naperville want -- whether it is opt in or to opt out -- it is going to be the November 2020 ballot," Bruzan Taylor said.

Council members said they expect to hear from large numbers of residents before they decide when the ballot question will be asked. During the Sept. 3 meeting, when members decided to ban recreational marijuana sales for now and put the topic to voters, 238 speakers signed up to share their views and the discussion lasted roughly four hours.

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