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Batavia heads for marijuana showdown

Council to consider allowing sale; mayor would veto

BATAVIA – Aldermen are preparing to decide whether or not to allow the sale of recreational marijuana in Batavia.

If the answer is yes, their decision will set up a confrontation with Mayor Jeff Schielke, who has vowed to veto any ordinance permitting recreational cannabis sales in the city.

Last summer and fall, the Batavia City Council took a wait-and-see approach while other municipalities approved the operation of marijuana dispensaries.

Now, with the legal sale of recreational pot underway in Illinois since the start of the year, Batavia aldermen are ready to make a decision.

The council will take up the question at a committee meeting on Tuesday.

Several aldermen said they likely will ask the city administration to make recommendations and possibly draft an ordinance permitting dispensaries to seek a state license in Batavia.

City Administrator Laura Newman said the question confronting aldermen is fairly simple.

“It’s really just a matter of whether they want it or if they don’t, and if they do, where,” Newman said.

Second Ward Alderman Alan Wolff, chairman of the council’s committee-of-the-whole, seemed to agree. Wolff said he intends to seek a consensus from his colleagues.

“I think it will be a focus on yes or no,” Wolff said.

Wolff and other council members made clear that they would not direct the administration to draft an ordinance unless at least 10 aldermen are on board.

In order to override a mayoral veto, a two-thirds majority of the 14-member council would be needed.

It would not be enough for Schielke to withhold his signature. The mayor would have to issue a formal veto within five days of council approval of an ordinance.

For aldermen to override a veto, they would be required to approve a motion to reconsider, needing only a simple majority, followed by a two-thirds vote in favor of approving the marijuana ordinance.

But first, they must determine whether they have the necessary support and where they would allow a dispensary to operate under the city’s zoning code.

Currently, there are no cannabis cultivation facilities or medical marijuana dispensaries in Batavia, although the city has an ordinance in place allowing for marijuana growing facilities in industrial areas.

The city also allows for conditional use permits to be issued by the council for medical cannabis dispensaries in some industrial and commercial zones.

Schielke has said he probably would sign an ordinance for a medical marijuana dispensary.

Last August, the council conducted a public hearing on the question of recreational marijuana, attracting about 50 citizens who spoke on both sides of the issue.

Since then, the council has approved legal definitions regarding marijuana facilities that could be used in an ordinance and applied to the city’s zoning code.

Newman said that besides the zoning question, the other key issue would be at what level to impose a city tax on marijuana sales.

State law allows municipalities to collect a tax of up to 3 percent on the sale of cannabis, in increments of .25 percent.

“We could be at a competitive advantage,” Newman said, depending on what tax rate the council decided to approve.

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