The city of Kewanee Tuesday passed around the idea of allowing and regulating cannabis businesses in town, but did not fully inhale.
The issue was brought to the board by city staff to measure how the council would like to approach the local implementation of the Jan. 1 state law legalizing marijuana.
“As a community, it’s up to us to decide whether or not we want to allow cannabis businesses in the community, and if so, where” said City Manager Gary Bradley. “That makes a big difference in how we draft an ordinance.”
Bradley said all of the city’s department heads had been researching the local impact of the new law and how the city could govern it. So far, according to City Attorney Justin Raver, different communities have taken different approaches — with some embracing the added tax revenue the new cannabis industry promises and others declining that revenue in defense of community standards.
Mayor Gary Moore said he’d like the issue studied more before proceeding.
“Before we say yes or no, we need to research and maybe reach out to the some of the communities” that have already passed ordinances “to see what underlying reasons they had for coming up with that decision.”
He said the council has to decide how it will approach the new industry, which had been illegal until legislation passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor in June.
Moore said the city has to react in some way through an ordinance, regardless of the direction that ultimately is decided.
“It’s going to be here, we’re not going to stop it,” he said. “They’re going to bring it here. It’s going to come here.”
Councilman Mike Komnick suggested finding a way to gauge public opinion on the issue of whether Kewanee should accept and regulate cannabis sales in the city or not.
Moore recommended holding a community forum “so people make an educated decision.”
Raver suggested that any forum include a presentation of the parameters of the new law, which are detailed and generally restrictive, especially in its setback requirements for pot despenseries away from schools and churches. There also are rules distinguishing recreational and medicinal dispensaries, and growing operations. Raver provided sample ordinances from Decatur, which will prohibit cannabis operations, and Galesburg, which has approved an ordinance in anticipation of a medical dispensary locating there. He also presented a Illinois Municipal League-recommended tax and regulation ordinance.
Pot smokers under the new law also must refrain from lighting up in public or risk breaking state law. But without an ordinance on the books, smoking in public wouldn’t be a local violation.
Raver said having a community forum without communicating the general state rules would be problematic.
“The community doesn’t know the rules,” he said. “You guys don’t even know the rules. We can’t talk in ideas of the past. We need to know what the rules are to educate the town to what this is. I’ve read the act from cover to cover. It’s very dense and it’s very complex. We don’t want to have a debate without a frame for the debate.”
“It’s going to be a new reality,” said Yaklich, who voiced initial trepidation over allowing any operations in Kewanee. A promised 3 percent sales tax incentive would help with the city budget, but Yaklich wondered if it would be enough to offset the social and policing costs. “I would not want to have regrets 5 or 10 years from now.”
Bradley said if “economics are really in play” and the city council does decide to allow cannabis operations in some form it would need to do so by the state law deadline to be competitive for any operations currently going through the certification process. Determining a local economic impact is difficult because of various uncertainties, included what the council would allow.
Police Chief Troy Ainley said there are several issues that still need to be settled as far as enforcement, but the fact remains that pot will soon be legal and strategies need to be developed to make the transition as safe as possible. As for the state’s rules, they are somewhat comprehensive and include limits on the amounts purchased and how it is transported. He said there are many community safeguards drawn into the law and encouraged council members to read it in its entirety.
“You’re not going to stop it,” he said. “It’s going to come to this community.”
“Would you be comfortable with it in town?” asked Councilman Steve Faber. “Could you keep up with it? It’s going to draw a lot more people, coming here. Is that what we want, that type here?”
Ainley did not answer that question, but Moore said a dispensary wouldn’t necessarily attract an unseemly crowd.
“We’re still going to have the same issues with the black market marijuana and the people who can’t afford to go to the dispensaries,” he said.
Councilmen agreed to set up a community forum to discuss the issue, though the format has yet to be determined. There was discussion of holding the presentation at a larger venue such as a local school.
“I think it’s important we get this right if we are going to do it,” said Councilman Chris Colomer.