Naperville to talk timing, wording of recreational pot referendum

The next questions about the potential of recreational marijuana sales in Naperville are those of timing and wording.

The timing question relates to when a referendum question asking if voters want to allow recreational marijuana sales in town should be on the ballot.

And the wording question relates to what, exactly, it should say.

City council members are expected to tackle both during a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the municipal center at 400 S. Eagle St.

The starting point is a staff memo proposing that a referendum be added by council resolution to the March 17, 2020, primary election ballot. The question would say:

"Shall the city of Naperville, in light of state legislation legalizing the possession, consumption, and sale of recreational adult use cannabis, allow the sale of recreational adult use cannabis within its jurisdiction?"

The referendum would be nonbinding and available on Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan ballots.

Leaders of the Opt Out Naperville movement opposing recreational marijuana sales are pushing for a later referendum, targeting the Nov. 3, 2020, general election.

"It's the fairest time for both sides, actually, to have the referendum," said Jennifer Bruzan Taylor, one of the leaders of Opt Out Naperville. "It will be most representative of what Naperville wants."

But members of an Opt In Naperville group are favor the March 17 date. Jim Haselhorst, who created an Opt In Naperville Facebook page, said he doesn't think voter turnout would be that much stronger in November to justify waiting.

"If there's an initiative on there that they care about, (voters will) show up," Haselhorst said. "The sooner we get it resolved, the better."

Council members expect a full house Tuesday, but are reminding potential speakers the issue at hand is limited to ballot question wording and timing.

"It's so much more narrowly focused," Mayor Steve Chirico said.

By Monday afternoon, 12 speakers had signed up with the city clerk's office to express their views. Some council members said they expect more like two or three dozen will come forward by the time the meeting starts.

But they're not predicting hundreds like the roughly 240 who spoke during the Sept. 3 meeting, when the council banned recreational marijuana stores, but also committed to put the issue to voters.

Despite all council members expressing support for gathering voter input, Chirico said, the panel remains split on when the referendum should be.

For example, council member Patrick Kelly said he favors the March 2020 date, but council member Paul Hinterlong said he wants to wait until April 2021, when "the people with the pulse on the community and the ones that really care" come out to vote in local races.

Chirico said he is weighing the March and November 2020 elections, but he would not support waiting until April 2021. By then, he said, too many of the state's licenses for recreational cannabis sellers will be issued and businesses receiving those licenses will have opened in other towns.

If the council wants to put the referendum on the November 2020 ballot, City Attorney Mike DiSanto said, members cannot take final action until their next meeting Nov. 5. That's because a resolution proposing a referendum must be approved less than one year before the election during which the question would appear.

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