By Joe Boyle
The benefits and disadvantages of opening recreational marijuana facilities in Palos Hills is weighing heavily on members of the City Council.
Board members provided their impressions of the Cannabis and Regulation Tax Act, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law on June 25, during a special session held last Thursday night at the Palos Hills City Hall.
The new law will take effect in Illinois on Jan. 1, 2020. The measure allows the possession and use of cannabis for Illinois residents ages 21 and over.
Mayor Gerald Bennett pointed out to the board that when the act officially becomes law, residents can purchase marijuana legally. They can do that whether Palos Hills approves or opts out of adding recreational marijuana facilities in the city, the mayor added.
“We have no control over the state law but it is heavily regulated,” Bennett said.
But several board members voiced their concerns about allowing dispensaries to operate within the city boundaries.
“I’m not in favor of it,” Ald. Mike Lebarre (3rd) said. “The only positive thing is revenue but I don’t think we need it.”
Ald. Martin Kleefisch (1st) also had his reservations.
“I don’t see any benefits to our citizens,” Kleefisch said. “To me, it is a mind-altering substance. There is still a lot of confusion about it. What happens when a police officer stops someone who is driving and is on marijuana? What is the limit? We are talking more about ethics, which we should, but should public officials be able to invest in these dispensaries? I think they could legally but is this ethical?”
Ald. Mark Brachman (2nd) responded that there is nothing to prevent public officials to invest in dispensaries. However, in his opinion, he could not see it happening because it would be unethical.
Bennett also said that residents are not allowed to grow marijuana on their premises.
Ald. Mike Price (1st) said the monetary benefits would have to be considered because dispensaries will open up in neighboring communities.
“Hopefully, if we do a vote on this, it would benefit us financially,” Price said. “But I just think this needs to be explored more.”
Ald. Donna O’Connell (5th) said there is much to consider before opting in or out of recreational marijuana dispensaries.
“There is a lot of gray areas about this and I just think we need to look at everything as we go along,” O’Connell said.
Referring to a question earlier by Kleefisch about driving under the influence of marijuana, Brachman added that a person who has consumed cannabis and is stopped by police will be treated no different than someone who has drank too much alcohol.
Ald. A.J. Pasek (3rd) said that the revenue the city could bring in with adding a recreational marijuana facility should not be ruled out.
“People will be bringing it in and they will be using it,” Pasek said. “But we could possibly benefit from getting a marijuana store. It would be profitable.”
Kleefisch said that concerns over the misuse of opioids cannot be denied and links those effects as similar to the use of marijuana.
At this point, Bennett interjected and said “but the state has ruled it as legal, so that is not the issue. We have to decide if we are going to opt in or out of having dispensaries in the city.”
Kleefisch responded that he could not support something that could hurt someone. He also mentioned that the three percent tax revenue will not all go to municipalities that approve of marijuana facilities.
A 40-year Palos Hills resident spoke and said he has been to Colorado where recreational marijuana is already legal. He added that Naperville has already turned it down.
“Worth can do what they want but I don’t think we need it,” the resident said. “We have a great community here and I l don’t think we need it here.”
The village of Worth already has a medical cannabis dispensary within their borders and the business would be allowed to sell recreational marijuana at the site if it is approved there.
Price asked Police Chief Paul Madigan what he thinks about allowing recreational marijuana facilities to open in the city.
“The Illinois Police Association was against the use of marijuana but, obviously, it was voted down,” Madigan said.
Brachman said the addition of recreational marijuana facilities is no different than video gaming.
“And I know there is money to be made, but I would be against it,” Brachman said.
The board decided to table any decision on recreational marijuana until all council members are present. Aldermen Joe Marrotta (4th) and Ricky Moore (4th) were not at the meeting.
Bennett pointed out that the board has a year to decide if they want to add recreational marijuana businesses. And the rules regarding the facilities would be similar to those that apply to video gaming, the mayor said.
“But about 70 percent of the towns who voted video gaming out have since voted to put it back in,” Bennett said.