Metro-East News

O’Fallon voters will have say in sale of adult-use cannabis within the city

O’Fallon voters will be asked their opinion on allowing the sale of adult-use cannabis within the city limits in an advisory referendum on the March 17 primary election ballot.

In an 8-5 vote, aldermen approved a resolution for the ballot initiative at the O’Fallon City Council meeting Monday.

While the wording has not yet been decided, the only area the referendum addresses is the business sales aspect of recreational-use marijuana. An adult-use cannabis business establishment is defined as a cultivation center, craft grower, or processing, infuser, dispensing, or transporting organization.

Alderman Ross Rosenberg asked that the wording be stronger so voters didn’t think it was on personal use, but rather the business end.

Mayor Herb Roach said the resolution did not specify the final wording.

“It behooves us to tell residents why they are voting and what they are voting on,” he said.

City Attorney Todd Fleming said because marijuana use is already state law, they did not need to reiterate that part. The mayor also stated the council will have the final say, no matter what the vote indicates, because the referendum is non-binding.

On Jan. 1, 2020, Illinois residents can legally use recreational marijuana and others have had medical marijuana permits. Illinois became the 11th state this past summer to legalize marijuana for private consumption, effective New Year’s Day.

However, the new Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act allows local communities to adopt and enforce ordinances regulating possession and public consumption of cannabis for adults age 21 or older.

The also state allows the city to opt out of the new law because the new act preserves local zoning authority, which can limit the location of cannabis businesses.

The O’Fallon City Council voted last month to ban the sale of cannabis, declaring it a public nuisance. O’Fallon is prohibiting all cannabis-related business establishments, including on-premise cannabis consumption establishments.

Municipalities may not restrict the private consumption of cannabis, but the use of cannabis in public places, schools and child-care facilities among other locations is prohibited.

The ordinance mentions protecting the public health, safety and welfare of its citizens, and that the city has determined cannabis business establishments would present adverse impacts.

It also says the additional costs would burden law enforcement and regulatory operations. The public safety department has gone on record concerned about impaired drivers.

In the future, if the council decides to permit but regulate the sale of recreational cannabis, the ordinance can be repealed.

A sunset provision on the prohibition six months after an advisory vote is certified was added as a good faith gesture for the public because it is a divisive issue, Todd Roach said. Roach said if people vote they don’t want it, then it’s banned permanently.

But if they want it, the council can look at it within six months after the referendum. That will force the council to revisit it because it is an advisory vote.

The six months time will not only give officials time for more input, but also, if the sale is supported, then the administration has time to prepare ordinances.

The ordinance was drafted based on a model one from the Illinois Municipal League and reviewed by the city’s special land use legal counsel Cunningham, Vogel and Rost. IML had recommended cities opposed enact legislation by Oct. 1, the first date people could submit applications for dispensaries.

A resolution had to be passed at least 79 days prior to the election in order to place the advisory referendum on either the primary or general elections. For the March 17 primary election, the deadline for the council action was Dec. 16.

‘We want to hear from citizens’

Several aldermen spoke about getting input from residents, something they have advocated since the issue was brought up. Both Parchman and Todd Roach said they stood by their initial viewpoint residents need to voice their opinion.

“We want to hear from citizens,” Roach said.

Mark Morton said there was little cost to ask voters what they thought.

“St. Clair County prints the ballots. It is not costing us a lot of money to put this on the ballot,” he said.

Christopher Monroe said during the past three months, he has not heard from any residents.

Tom Vorce said he wanted to propose the result had to be 80 percent in favor in order for the council to change the ordinance.

“At what point do we change the ordinance? 51 percent? 60 percent?” Vorce said.

Public opinion split

Public opinion expressed at council meetings has been split both pro and con. At Monday’s meeting, Joshua Jenkins spoke in favor of letting citizens express their views while Charlie Pitt supported the council ban as is.

Jenkins said he has a petition with 75 signatures in favor of the referendum. He said the council should heed opinions expressed in digital forums, such as Facebook, where residents were in favor of the industry being in town. He called the city’s ordinance “premature.”

“The industry is taking note,” he said.

Several citizens in support of sales expressed chiefly economic reasons at council meetings in August and September. They mentioned how the tax money could benefit the city and how well-regulated the business is.

At a Committee of the Whole meeting July 29, public opinion expressed aligned with the aldermen who favored banning sales in town, with a majority leaning towards an advisory referendum to help them better represent their constituents. Similar sentiments were expressed at a Town Hall meeting in mid-July.

Municipalities can enact reasonable zoning regulations not in conflict with the new act, including commercial production or distribution (dispensaries) of adult-use cannabis within their jurisdiction.

Municipalities also may enact zoning ordinances and regulations designating the time, place, manner and number of cannabis business operations, including minimum distances between locations through conditional use permits.

In addition to zoning authority, municipalities can allow for on-premise use of cannabis at locations to be determined locally. The state anticipates local authorities will inspect cannabis-related businesses.

Home-grown cannabis will be allowed only for medical cannabis program participants and is limited to five plants in their residence, subject to specified restrictions.

Those voting in favor of the advisory referendum were Ross Rosenberg, Dennis Muyleart, Kevin Hagarty, Mark Morton, Todd Roach, Gwen Randolph, Dan Witt and Nathan Parchman, with Jerry Albrecht, Ray Holden, Christopher Monroe, Jessica Lotz and Tom Vorce voting no. Alderman Matthew Gilreath was absent.

Additional cannabis info

The Illinois Department of Agriculture must license businesses to cultivate, dry, cure and package cannabis, among other activities. The Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation will regulate dispensaries.

The state will be accepting and processing licenses through the first half of 2020.

Currently, only two medical marijuana dispensaries are in the same district as O’Fallon, and they are in Collinsville and Sauget.

The Illinois Economic Policy Institute has estimated that statewide sales of recreation cannabis will be $1.62 billion annually.