O'Fallon Progress

Future of marijuana sales in O’Fallon is unclear as committee takes public input

O’Fallon, IL Mayor discusses city approach to marijuana dispensaries

O'Fallon, IL Mayor Herb Roach onJuly 30, 2019 discusses the city council's thoughts and approach to whether to allow marijuana dispensaries in town. Recreational marijuana becomes legal on Jan. 1, 2020.
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O'Fallon, IL Mayor Herb Roach onJuly 30, 2019 discusses the city council's thoughts and approach to whether to allow marijuana dispensaries in town. Recreational marijuana becomes legal on Jan. 1, 2020.

O’Fallon may be among the cities that do not allow cannabis sales in their corporate boundaries, even though recreational marijuana use will be legal in the state, effective Jan. 1, 2020, but with restrictions.

Public opinion expressed during a Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night aligned with the aldermen who favored prohibiting the sales in town, with a majority leaning toward an advisory referendum to help them better represent their constituents.

While municipalities may not restrict the private consumption or possession amounts of cannabis now authorized by the new law — the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act — they do have an option to decide whether to allow dispensaries.

Whatever the city decides to do, an ordinance will have to be enacted. All 14 aldermen, including two unable to attend, said they wanted more input from residents before making a final decision.

The O’Fallon City Council has three options, City Administrator Walter Denton explained:

Allowing it would mean regulation of sales and require updating an ordinance;

Prohibition is an outright ban; or

An advisory referendum on the March 17 Primary Election ballot would require preparation for legislation to get a consensus.

If the council chooses to allow a cannabis dispensary to locate in O’Fallon, they would need to hold further discussion on what zoning districts would allow for recreational cannabis businesses, and establish distance requirements and performance standards they would have to meet.

Next step a referendum?

With most aldermen personally not in favor of the sales, Denton said the next steps would be to decide on placing a referendum on the ballot, with the council acting on it possibly sometime in December.

He also noted the council could put a ban in place until the referendum, and then based on what came back, could rescind it or keep it as is.

“There are only so many days to get stuff on the ballot,” he said.

Before the council enacts anything, the Community Development Committee will review the issues and make a recommendation to the council.

On June 25, Illinois became the 11th state to allow possession and recreational use of cannabis for individuals who are 21 years of age or older, but with these restrictions on amounts:

30 grams of raw cannabis;

500 milligrams or less of THC of cannabis-infused products (generally considered edibles);

Five grams of cannabis production concentrated form (typically bottles, creams and so forth);

Home cultivation of up to five cannabis plants per household permitted only for medical cannabis patients.

Medical marijuana, prescribed for pain therapy, has been legal in the state since 2014.

Denton said the state will have 185 dispensaries, with a projection of up to 495 by 2024. The tax revenue could be between $130,000 to $600,000, he said.

The new state law still prohibits use in public places, schools and childcare facilities, among other restricted locations. It is allowed on private property.

O’Fallon Mayor Herb Roach has been encouraging residents to participate in the discussion. He said the issue “is not just about dollars. There are social, psychological and political issues that need to be considered.”

He noted California, which passed legislation last year, has only one in seven cities that allow its sale. In Colorado, it is three out of 10, he said.

“We need to consider what we feel is right for the community,” he said.

For instance, O’Fallon does not allow any pawn shops, payday loan businesses or tattoo parlors.

He asked each of the 12 aldermen present to make comments.

O’Fallon alderman offer their input

Alderman Matt Gilreath said he appreciated O’Fallon was overall a conservative community, and he is against it because of his religious and moral beliefs. But he wanted more input from residents before he would decide.

“What do we want O’Fallon to look like years from now?” he asked.

Alderman Mark Morton said he had not heard from enough residents, but on the other side, he suggested common sense.

“What will we achieve at the end of the day?” he said.

Morton said those who want to purchase it can get it in neighboring communities.

“We have to be realistic about retail,” he said.

He also noted federal employees are still regulated to be drug-free at their workplaces.

Alderman Kevin Hagarty, who works in law enforcement, said he needed to study it a little more, but agreed with what had been said.

Alderman Dennis Muyleart said he was elected to represent his ward and wanted to hear from more people.

Alderman Christopher Monroe said personally he was 100 percent against it, but that he wanted to listen to “all sides.”

Alderman Jerry Albrecht predicted only 10 percent of the voters would show up for an advisory referendum, but others disagreed, thinking it would attract a high number of people. Later, Albrecht said his sister, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has used medical marijuana for 10 years. While it helps relieve her pain, he said her personality has changed significantly.

Alderman Gwen Randolph said her beliefs lean toward prohibition but wanted to do more research.

Alderman Tom Vorce also favored more input from residents but was not in favor of it.

“We will still get a piece of the state’s 8 percent sales tax, whatever we decide,” he said.

Alderman Nathan Parchman said he talked with 40-50 residents, most all 34 years old or older, and found the majority didn’t mind either way. He disagreed with Albrecht saying he thought turnout would be significant for a referendum.

“A referendum is the voice of the community. We need to make an educated decision,” Parchman said.

Alderman Jessica Lotz said she was leaning towards the referendum, and the city should devote as much time on this as they did on food trucks. She has done a lot of research and wanted to gain more perspective.

“I’m very interested in finding out what people have to say,” she said.

Alderman Ross Rosenberg said he was employed as a Boeing contractor, and as a retired military person, pointed out military personnel would not get federal clearances with marijuana in their system. He also brought up the public safety factor of driving under the influence of drugs.

He said his ward was pretty much split, so a referendum would help him decide.

Police Chief Eric Van Hook was on vacation, and some of the aldermen wanted to hear what he had to say.

Alderman Ray Holden said he favored a referendum, and there was “still so much we do not know about it.”

Both Aldermen Dan Witt and Todd Roach were unable to attend the meeting but they forwarded statements to the mayor, who said they were in favor of an advisory referendum.

Attendees weigh in on marijuana sales issue

About 35-40 people attended, and that included several former aldermen and city staff.

Former Alderman Ned Drolet suggested that they could wait even longer than the primary election for a referendum, that perhaps that was too soon, and “why rush it?” He said more voters would likely turn out for the general election in November.

Dr. Dave McCarthy, a retired O’Fallon physician, pointed out that the largest city in Colorado, Colorado Springs, did not allow sales because of the many military workers in the area. He suggested O’Fallon take that into consideration, as it could affect base realignment decisions regarding Scott Air Force Base, the area’s largest employer.

Ken Blackburn asked for a show of hands from residents who were opposed to sales, and a majority of hands were raised. When he asked who was in favor, one man raised his hand.

Mark Owings explained that surrounding communities would sell it and would make profits.

“It’s going to be here anyway. It’s a matter of sales. Whatever sales tax would be lost. I don’t see that as a reason not to sell it,” he said.

Both City Clerk Jerry Mouser and the mayor said they opposed sales. Mouser said it wasn’t worth the 3 percent revenue they would collect, and Roach worried about the drug’s effect on the quality of the schools.

A Committee of the Whole meeting is set for a month that has a fifth Monday, which means that there is no city council or committee meetings scheduled. The mayor established these after his election in 2017 so that the council could discuss broad policy issues and establish priorities for community improvements.

Video gaming, survey results discussed as well

The council also discussed the new video gaming law, which provides expansion of the existing gambling act and will result in new casinos and sports wagering in the state. It also increases the number of allowed video gaming terminals per establishment to six.

Currently, O’Fallon only allows a maximum of five terminals per establishment. The council must decide whether to increase the maximum allowance to six terminals per establishment.

The next council meeting is Monday.

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