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Local

Elburn continues to weigh pros, cons of potential marijuana businesses

Some planning commissioners don't want dispensary along Main Street

Marijuana buds
Marijuana buds

ELBURN – Elburn resident Hannah King said that although her 19 years of age is not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, she said it’s been long enough for her to understand that Elburn holds itself to a standard.

“When you drive through a town, it can look like three bars and nothing else, or it can look like Elburn,” she said. “To keep it (the marijuana dispensary) out of the main area of town, would keep it to that standard.”

Some of the Planning Commission members had the same thought. Although all but one commissioner – Carolyn Jansen – are in favor of allowing a marijuana dispensary in town, a couple of them don’t think it belongs on Main Street.

“I don’t want my kids to be riding their bikes to Alice’s and seeing a big, green flashing pot sign on their way,” said Commissioner Brian Techter.

Commissioner Ryan Anderson said that of a number of dispensaries he saw in Colorado, not one of them was on the main street of a town.

On the other hand, however, Planning Commission Chair Jeff Metcalf said that he didn’t want to hide it away in a dark place, either.

Trustees Chris Mulvihill, Anderson, Techter, Metcalf and Rob Houtz were all in favor of allowing a dispensary - or two – in town, leaving Jansen surprised to find herself the only one not in favor of this type of business in Elburn.

She said that although she has done quite a bit of research on the topic, her biggest concern is that there is so much they don’t know, and what they don’t know could bankrupt the town.

“We’re a small town with a small-town budget,” she said. “We don’t have the money to support a problem if something comes up.”

Because the sale of marijuana is still a federal offense, federally-insured banks cannot handle the profits from its sale. This makes it a cash business, with the potential pitfalls that entails, as well as others they’re not aware of, placing a heavier burden on law enforcement, she said.

She doesn’t want them on Main Street, nor does she want them in general business (B-2) districts, either, as some of those areas are right next to residential neighborhoods. Although village board members have said they want to require a potential dispensary to come before the village for a special use permit, she said that does not really give the village a lot of leeway to deny it.

“’We’re not ready for it’ is not a criteria and people who live in the area objecting to it in their neighborhood is not a reason to deny a special use,” she said.

Village attorney Bill Thomas told the commissioners that “In Illinois, we’re going to crawl with the law, and you can bet there will be some growing pains and some changes.” She said she would prefer to let other towns experience the growing pains, and learn from their mistakes.

Village President Jeff Walter, who attended the meeting, said he was interested to hear what the commissioners had to say – “you live here, too.” However, he said that the Village Board had already made most of the major decisions, including the zoning where they could be located, and those possibilities include Main Street (B-1), general business (B-2) and industrial areas.

“We have been approached by someone who has applied for a license,” he said. “They want to come to Elburn. The Board has agreed to this. The board wants you to come up with the criteria for the special use.”

Walter said Village Board members have been hearing positive things about a dispensary from the community, and although it has been on several village meeting agendas, no one has come forward to argue against it.

“They’re seeing it as an opportunity, that it’s already coming, they know it’s very controlled, and that it’s a chance to make some of that revenue,” he said.

He said there is not much risk in allowing a business like this in town, because there is a significant cost involved in obtaining a license.

“It’s big business; these are not people who will jeopardize their investment,” he said. “It’s not the guy on the local corner selling a dime bag.”

He explained that the sales tax on the sale of marijuana is an additional 3 percent on top of the village’s 8 percent – for a total of an 11 percent tax on the revenues. In addition, he said that some of the money that the state collects will go towards education and enforcement, in the form of grants to police departments.

Village Administrator John Nevenhoven said these businesses already do their banking through credit unions to alleviate some of the cash issues.

Walter said that the state has already set up restrictions that one dispensary has to be at least 1500 feet away from another.

“That’s five football fields,” he said. “We’ll only be able to have one in the downtown area.”

Another Elburn resident, Richard Matthys, thanked the village officials for “getting ahead of this.” He said he knows a bit about the industry, due to a relative using it for medical purposes, and said the transactions are conducted with cryptocurrency.

As far as where the sites should be located, his take was that the company that wants to come to Elburn will already know where they want to go, and that Elburn should be thinking of “the big picture.”

“I’ve seen downtowns die before – with nothing but bars in them,” he said.

The Planning Commission ended up recommending the special use requirement for the dispensary businesses, with a vote of 5:1. The dispensaries would need to be 150 feet away from a school or a day care center. The number of sites the village will allow will be based on population, in increments of 10,000.

The hours of operation will be from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week and there will be no on-site consumption.

“I feel like we’re being rushed into these decisions,” Jansen said. “Why are we trying to do this with so little information?”

The matter will again come before the Village Board on Sept. 19.

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