DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith called any hopes to have a dispensary in DeKalb by Jan. 1 2020 “wishful thinking,” due to the lengthy process of state licensing.
This comes in light of J.B. Pritzker signing HB 1438 in June, which will allow municipalities to regulate and tax cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol, according to the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act.
Smith said though the City Council initially had a “wait and see attitude,” he could tell Council members were open to the idea of recreational marijuana being sold in DeKalb.
“A number of communities in the state have opted out; we have that option as a municipality,” Smith said. “We will probably not do that. It was clear to me early on in the process that our City Council was going to be very supportive of recreational marijuana.”
The Council discussed the legalization of recreational marijuana at a public hearing and a committee of the whole, Smith said.
Out of the six types of marijuana establishments, the City Council has favored dispensaries as a viable option, Smith said.
The revenue from dispensaries could have a significant impact on the DeKalb economy, Smith said.
“I will say that given the City of DeKalb’s fiscal condition now, much like many municipalities across the state, I think one of the overriding considerations as it relates to our City Council taking a look at this favorably is the potential revenue,” Smith said.
First Ward Alderperson Carolyn Morris said she’s very optimistic about legalization.
Though she said she was surprised to see Gov. J.B. Pritzker win this year's election, she said she’s happy to see that he’s following through on a lot of his plans, including the signing of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, Morris said.
“I’m extra optimistic with the communities that are turning it down altogether,” Morris said. “That means good stuff for our opportunity to take a big part of the market share in this.”
Recalling the Sept. 9 City Council meeting, Morris said a few council members had reservations about marijuana being dispensed in DeKalb, but most members were on board with it.
Smith said the City Council is continuing to research and deliberate over prospective changes.
“We continue to have discussions and to take a look at our options,” Smith said. “My take right now is that the public sentiment toward recreational dispensing of marijuana in this state after the first of the year is very positive.”
Morris said City Council members are to attend the Illinois Municipal League’s annual conference, hosted from Sept. 19 through 21 in Chicago. The conference aims to educate municipal officials on ways to address challenges facing their communities, according to the IML conference website. One of the sessions council members will be able to attend will address the options municipalities have for local regulation of cannabis businesses, Morris said.
A challenge the City Council will face amidst legalization will be determining how to police marijuana, Smith said.
“From my understanding, there are not as many discernable exams or tests to determine whether someone is under the influence of marijuana as opposed to the alcohol testing which has been pretty conclusive,” Smith said.
Scientists from the University of Pittsburg are developing a breathalyzer that can detect THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijauana, but they say marijuana’s federal status as a schedule I drug makes research difficult and delays the process, according to a Sept. 5 NPR report.
Morris said the biggest challenge will be finding a balance between being a forward-thinking community while also learning from the decisions made by other municipalities regarding the dispensing of recreational marijuana.
“The fine line we’re going to be walking here is being welcoming and inviting to new businesses in a new market but also not going too far and putting aside our values,” Morris said.
Despite the unanswered questions and challenges, Smith said he feels legalization makes sense for DeKalb given the fact that it is a university community.
“I’d much rather have [students] get their weed, if [they’re] going to buy it after January, in DeKalb rather than taking the chance and driving someplace,” Smith said. “I think that’s what would happen if in fact our council decided we didn’t want to do it.”
The City Council has instructed City Manager Bill Nicklas to draw up ordinances based on the meetings it’s had regarding legalization so far, Smith said.
After the next 30 days, or the next two council meetings, council members may have a workable ordinance they can discuss and potentially be in a position to pass, Smith said.
“I just want people to know that I think we’ve done our homework,” Smith said. “We will continue to ask important questions; we will try to seek answers to questions that still need to be answered, and I’m confident that this City Council is going to do the right thing.”
DeKalb citizens should bring any questions, concerns or fears they have about legalization to the city council discussions, Morris said.