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Would legal marijuana bring dispensaries to DeKalb, Sycamore? Mayors weigh in

May 8, 2019

If Illinois lawmakers do decide to legalize marijuana use by adults by 2020, DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith says it will be a community decision on whether a dispensary is allowed to open in his city.

Smith was in Springfield on Wednesday lobbying on behalf of the city with the Illinois Municipal League. He says he expects the legalization proposal will pass. A marijuana dispensary could be a source of tax revenue, but could have drawbacks as well, he said.

“We have to realize that we are in a university town,” Smith said Tuesday, referring to Northern Illinois University. “The population we have in DeKalb is a population that is either impacted by or has tremendous interest in potential legalization of cannabis.”

Smith said the City Council has no official position on the matter yet, but he is working with officials at NIU, DeKalb County, and Sycamore to set up a town-hall public meeting about marijuana.

Details of a proposal to legalize marijuana for adult use were released on Saturday, and they include a number of provisions allowing for local control of the drug. The proposal says that communities can pass “opt-out” ordinances to forbid dispensaries from opening in their jurisdiction for up to a year after legalization. Those that allow marijuana sales could impose a 3% sales tax, while counties could add an extra half-percent. In addition to retail sales, the bill as written would allow people to grow up to five plants in their homes, with conditions.

Although a medical marijuana pilot program was enacted in 2015, there are no dispensaries in DeKalb County.

In Chicago on Saturday, Gov. JB Pritzker said he reached an agreement with key lawmakers on a plan legalize recreational marijuana use, which comes after years of discussion among state legislators, and would be an amendment to Senate Bill 7, introduced by Democratic Senator Heather Steans of Chicago.

The proposal would allow adults 21 and older to legally buy cannabis for recreational use from licensed dispensaries. Illinois residents could possess up to about an ounce of marijuana, while others could possess about half an ounce. The measure also automatically would erase records of all misdemeanor and some felony marijuana convictions.

Opinion polls have shown about two-thirds of Illinoisans support an end to marijuana prohibition, but law enforcement agencies have remained largely opposed, while some political leaders remain unconvinced.

In Sycamore, Mayor Curt Lang opposes legalization. Although Sycamore’s City Council has approved never-realized proposals for a medical marijuana dispensary in the past, Lang said the city probably would not be keen on plans for a recreational dispensary.

He said both he and other city officials, like Sycamore Police Chief Jim Winters, are concerned about the impact of legalization on society.

“There’s enough unknown risk to our public safety that I don’t think we would approve it until there’s more information,” Lang said. “I would definitely want local control, and think we would be observers for a while to see how other communities handle it.”

Both Smith and Lang said neither of their respective city councils has yet to hold any official conversation on legalization, but both would desire local control over licensing fees, growing regulations, and more if legalized.

Winters said he’s hopeful that the 62 Republican and Democratic House lawmakers – a majority of the 118 members – who signed on to a resolution calling for a slowdown in the legalization process will stick to their convictions. On Tuesday, House Speaker Michael Madigan said passage of the measure “is not guaranteed today.”

“This is such a big deal, this is going to impact so many people, my hope is nothing’s rushed,” Winters said. “We need to make sure we really understand once that gets signed what we’re going to get and what the restrictions and safeguards are.”

Keicher has said before that he supports slowing down the process and making sure safety and driving issues are addressed. At a town hall in DeKalb on April 23, he talked about growing up with a father who used marijuana excessively.

If the proposal does pass, Illinois would join 10 other states, including Michigan, in legalizing recreational marijuana. While the Illinois law would take effect Jan. 1, the first licenses for Illinois growers, processors and dispensaries wouldn’t be issued until May and July 2020, the governor’s office said.

Sycamore’s Planning and Zoning Commission already has approved a special-use permit for a medical marijuana dispensary three times, in 2015, 2017, and in March most recently, for The Dispensary LLC, at 1985 Gateway Drive, near Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital and associated medical buildings. The dispensary has been unable to move forward with the state licensing process, which has not been opened since 2015.

In DeKalb, the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2015 also set up framework to allow for medical dispensaries, City Manager Bill Nicklas said. He said the city has been approached by two separate groups inquiring about medical dispensaries, one just this week.

Pritzker is counting on $170 million from licensing fees in his proposed state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. He’s said future revenue from legal marijuana will help Illinois address some of its deep financial problems.

According to page six of the Governor’s summary of the bill, municipalities could impose a 3% sales tax on recreational sales, which City Manager Bill Nicklas said could be more impactful in DeKalb if the state allows the tax to be regulated by Home Rule communities.

Mayor Lang said he’s not buying it.

“I don’t believe it,” Lang said. “Our state is in billions of dollars of debt. I don’t know if you can weigh the increase in traffic accidents, traffic-causing death, with a few million dollars. I think you need to slow down and do more research.”

The Associated Press and Capitol News contributed to this report.

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