O'Fallon Progress

Residents speak in favor of cannabis sales in O’Fallon

Aldermen are expected to vote against cannabis sales for when recreation use becomes legal Jan. 1 but approve increasing video gaming terminals to six — the maximum — at the next O’Fallon City Council meeting Monday.

The ordinances were advanced after two 13-1 votes Sept. 3, with Alderman Jerry Albrecht voting no on both.

Five residents spoke in favor of cannabis sales for the city’s financial gains. Trissa Jenkins, a resident for 23 years, suggested at least a trial period for cannabis sales instead of banning it before it was tried, noting the industry was well-regulated.

Nicole Wheatley, a nurse for seven years and resident since 2002, said she was not a cannabis user but supported its sales to generate jobs and tax revenue, and quoted statistics in favor of recreational marijuana use.

Jennifer Meyer, who works in health care in Collinsville, across the street from the medical marijuana dispensary HCI Alternatives, said there was not any trouble there, no vagrants hanging out or disturbances, and that it was near the Illinois State Police headquarters.

Autymn Hubbard, who owns several businesses in town, said she thought cannabis sales would be a major plus to help fund city projects.

In the second public comments segment, a man who is pursuing a cannabis business and would like to locate in O’Fallon, said the application fee alone is $5,000. Bob Barringer told the council they should not prolong a decision because the state regulation process could leave O’Fallon out while other nearby cities make financial gains. It’s legal Jan. 1 and people wanting to open a business will look elsewhere.

“Do your due diligence,” he said, but explained the computer software costs $27,000 and before the business is up and running, it’s about a $700,000 investment.

“You have to pay $30,000 before you can even sell,” he said. “It’s a big booming business. Cities can make a lot of money. All have made money — as far as I know, there has been no detriment.”

While the council is in favor of prohibiting sales, it still may put an advisory referendum on the ballot for an upcoming municipal or general election. Later, if the council would change its mind, they could repeal the ordinance.

In order to add an advisory question to an upcoming election ballot, the council must pass a resolution no less than 79 days prior to the election.

If the council would like a question added to the ballot on March 17, 2020, the last meeting to pass a resolution is Dec. 16.

However, the Illinois Municipal League suggested cities wanting to ban the recreation sales should have an ordinance in place by Oct. 1, which is the first day people can begin submitting applications for dispensaries to the state.

They added a sunset provision for the ordinance to expire six months after a referendum on allowing retail sales of cannabis is certified. That means the council will act again taking the vote under advisement.

However, aldermen pointed out the ordinance wording did not reflect that the council will reconsider the ordinance, and it’s not a done deal. So, an amended ordinance with much better clarity went to the Community Development Committee on Sept. 9 for discussion, and that would return to the council Sept. 16 for a final vote.

Alderman Matt Gilreath said he did not have an informed opinion yet.

“I don’t know how I feel,” he said, stating he wanted to find out more about the economic impact. “Let us best represent you. Let’s go into this slowly.”

On June 25, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, making Illinois the 11th state in America to legalize the recreational use of cannabis.

The consumption of cannabis will be allowed on private property or, potentially, specifically designated establishments such as dispensaries or smoking lounges. Municipalities may not restrict the private consumption of cannabis authorized by the act.

However, the act prohibits the use of cannabis in public places, schools and childcare facilities among other locations. Municipalities may adopt and enforce local ordinances to regulate possession and public consumption of cannabis so long as the regulations and penalties are consistent with the act.

Video gaming terminals discussed

Regarding the increase of video gaming terminals, the city projects an additional revenue of $36,000 per year.

Matt Shellabarger, owner of St. Clair Bowl, asked the council to support an additional video gaming terminal because it is one of the amenities bowlers look for, and he would like to put it on the bid for attracting major tournaments.

Currently, O’Fallon allows a maximum of five terminals at licensed establishments.

In February 2015, the council granted permission to allow video gaming terminals in O’Fallon. A new state law, effective Jan. 1, will expand gambling options and increase terminals to a maximum of six.