What rules for selling recreational marijuana in St. Charles might look like
In response to an application to the city, a St. Charles advisory panel has offered a set of proposed regulations for allowing up to two recreational marijuana shops in town.
After hearing from residents on both sides of the issue Tuesday, the plan commission voted 6-2 to recommend changing the city's zoning code to create a special use for recreational cannabis dispensing.
Suggested restrictions include limiting dispensaries to the regional business zoning district; allowing no more than one retail operation on either side of the Fox River; requiring businesses to have operated a medical marijuana facility for at least two years; and prohibiting on-site consumption lounges and any other types of marijuana businesses.
The plan commission also supported setting a 250-foot buffer between a dispensary and any school, day care or residence.
Additionally, members of the panel suggested the city council consider allowing the special use within the limited manufacturing district. The move would potentially allow an existing medical marijuana dispensary, Zen Leaf, to continue operating at its current location, as requested by the company representatives Tuesday.
A new state law goes into effect Jan. 1 legalizing the recreational possession and consumption of marijuana by people ages 21 and older. Municipalities can regulate the zoning of related retail operations, or they can choose to ban sales altogether.
The commission's entire recommendation is a variation of a motion made in August by Alderman Lora Vitek during one of two community discussions on the topic.
The government operations committee voted 6-3 to direct the staff to initiate a zoning amendment.
At the start of Tuesday's public hearing, Chairman Todd Wallace stressed that the focus was on the city's specific zoning application, not whether adult marijuana use should be legalized. "That decision has already been made by our state," he said.
Some commission members questioned whether the proposed zoning change would be in the best interest of the public. Vice Chairman Tim Kessler said he'd prefer to set suggested controls for city council consideration, rather than leave it open for interpretation.
The panel's recommendations will now be considered by the planning and development committee before the city council makes the final decision.
Should St. Charles ultimately choose to allow cannabis sales, any potential retailer would still need to go through a formal approval process to be granted the special use.
Because recreational cannabis is illegal under federal law, Wallace said he would take issue with recommending approval of any individual application. He and commission member Jeffrey Funke cast the two "no" votes.
Several residents spoke out against allowing sales in St. Charles, saying they feared such operations would hurt the town's image.
Many opponents also expressed concerns over the possible health and safety effects of marijuana, and whether it would be more easily accessible by underage community members.
"The greater the availability, the greater the usage," resident Richard Mueller said. "Prove your concern for St. Charles kids by saying 'no' to this zoning amendment."
Failing that, he suggested letting residents vote on the topic in a referendum.
However, supporters said allowing recreational cannabis sales would give St. Charles an opportunity to embrace a new industry, bring in new businesses and generate additional tax revenue.
Resident Sean Baker said he believes legal dispensaries would reduce unregulated, black market sales, ultimately making the community safer.