Buffalo Grove trustees hear recreational pot outcry past midnight, then vote to allow sales

Angering residents who showed up in droves to oppose the sale of recreational marijuana in the village, Buffalo Grove trustees have approved zoning regulations to allow those businesses to operate.

The vote came about 1 a.m. Tuesday, after 4½ hours of comments by residents, most of whom spoke passionately against allowing recreational pot sales in the village.

Only one trustee, David Weidenfeld, voted against the regulations, which will allow recreational dispensaries as a special use in nonresidential areas - three business districts and the industrial district.

The ordinance limits the number of dispensaries to two. Any in the business district must front Lake-Cook Road, Milwaukee Avenue or Dundee Road.

It also prohibits recreational dispensaries from operating as a cultivation center, craft grower, or a processing, infuser or transporting organization. Food, other than cannabis-infused products, would be prohibited from being sold at the dispensary, and on-site consumption would also be outlawed.

Any applicant would have to hold a valid medical dispensing license. One medical marijuana dispensary, PDI Medical, operates in the village.

Each dispensary may not be within 1,000 feet of the property line of a public or private nursery school, preschool, primary or secondary school, day care center or day care home, or a museum, library or drug treatment center.

Recreational use of marijuana by those 21 and older becomes legal in Illinois on Jan. 1. Under state law, municipalities cannot outlaw marijuana use, but they can ban or restrict businesses that sell it. Towns that allow marijuana businesses can impose an additional 3% tax on sales.

As trustees began to express favorable opinions toward the regulations, after the lengthy public comment ahead of their vote, several attendees became vocal in their disapproval. One resident had to be escorted out of the council chambers by police, while others hurled insults at trustees. By the time the vote was taken, the room, which had been packed to capacity with some people flowing into the hallway, was nearly empty.

William Pollack, a chiropractor who said his son was a pallbearer for "three of his best friends" at Stevenson High School, was among several speakers who warned of the dangers of marijuana. "Anyone that thinks that marijuana is not an entry-level drug is delusional," Pollack said.

Another speaker, Craig Kral, said legalization should have happened years ago. "I sense there is a lot of fear in this room," Kral said. But he added zoning restrictions should assuage those fears, limiting the sale to areas that would not affect most of the residents.

Residents shouted "Shame on you," at trustees as they reacted to the vote.

Debate continued Tuesday on social media, where most commenters were critical of the board's decision.

Trustee Lester Ottenheimer III provoked the most vocal reaction as he explained his vote during the board meeting.

"When I decided to run for trustee, I knew it would not be an easy job. I knew there were going to be tough decisions to make," Ottenheimer said. "This is one of those tough decisions tonight."

He said his study of the issue revealed marijuana legalization boosts the economy and results in decreased teen marijuana use and reduced crime, and traffic deaths have dropped in states that legalize medical marijuana.

Ottenheimer cited research by the Washington University School of Medicine that said marijuana use rates by young people are falling even as states legalize and decriminalize marijuana use.

But Weidenfeld, the board's most vocal opponent of recreational pot sales, wanted the village to make a statement even as "there is nothing we're going to do to stop recreational marijuana from being everywhere in Illinois" as state lawmakers are desperate for money.

"I think the village has an opportunity to make a statement. And the statement is, 'We don't condone this. We don't encourage it. We don't think it's the right thing for people to do.'"

"I've spent half of my adult life as a volunteer at OMNI Youth Services," he said. "I have seen and talked to the kids whose lives were destroyed, trashed, everything else, by substance abuse. I don't want Buffalo Grove to be a drug destination."

Trustee Joanne Johnson called the zoning ordinance a solid one, one of the strictest in the state. She said it covers all the bases.

"If cannabis is going to be legal and sold on our borders, like on Dundee Road in Arlington Heights, wouldn't you rather have the power to regulate it and reap the financial benefits from its sales?" she said. "To do otherwise would be to pass on a new revenue stream, while still having to handle the possible negative impacts of this new law."

Public comment on recreational pot goes on for hours in Buffalo Grove

  Buffalo Grove trustees listened to public comment late into the night at Monday's board meeting. Steve Zalusky/
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