Lake County considering options on recreational marijuana sales
The Lake County Board may be ready to start the process of determining whether to allow the sale of recreational marijuana in unincorporated areas.
Initial feedback suggested a fair amount of support to begin the ordinance process to allow recreational cannabis businesses in unincorporated Lake County. Marijuana sales and use becomes legal in Illinois on Jan. 1.
However, staff was directed to reconfirm board members' views following a presentation Friday by a county task force. And if the zoning process does proceed, that doesn't mean a majority of the board favors pot shops. A final decision on that wouldn't be expected until late spring.
"The action simply gets the ball rolling for public hearings, the weighing of information on community impact and mitigation strategies, and a chance to dive deeper into the policy of recreational cannabis legalization at the local level," said Eric Waggoner, director of the county's Planning, Building & Development Department.
Discussions are being held with county board members this week to determine their stances. Based on the majority view, an agenda item will be prepared for the public works, planning and transportation committee to consider in early December.
Other options include prohibiting businesses that sell marijuana for recreational use or enact a moratorium and discuss the matter at a later date.
The task force presentation may have prompted further reflection by board members, Waggoner added.
"I came in here with an open mind," board member Steve Carlson of Grandwood Park said near the end of the hour-plus informal session Friday. "I've learned a lot today. I've changed my mind several times."
Some county board members left no doubt where they stand.
"I don't have to think about it. My answer is no," said board member Linda Pedersen of Antioch.
"Everything that we've heard here today, I can't fathom that we're even considering it (approval)."
That included information from Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther that showed increases in accidents, emergency room visits and homelessness in states that have approved the use of recreational marijuana.
There are competing opinions as to when a person becomes under the influence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active compound in marijuana, when it enters the blood stream and how long it remains, Guenther added.
Because of that, specially trained drug recognition experts are needed to make test results stand up in court. But there are only seven such experts in Lake County and training is expensive, he said.
Some county board members said they favored allowing sales but believe taxes collected should specifically be used for health services, first responders or other expenses, such as is done with video gambling.
Waggoner said the county has received only two "mild inquiries" regarding future zoning for cannabis businesses.
The county task force was created in August with more than 30 communities and other agencies and stakeholders participating over three meetings.
The goal was to explore research on the impact of legalizing recreational cannabis in other states, identify best practices to regulate it and develop tools to help communities as they deliberate, Waggoner said.