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Column

GUEST COLUMN: Time to deal with realities of recreational marijuana

City Hall needs input from citizens on issue

Jim Wise
Jim Wise

Since Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA) last month, supporters and opponents of this legislation have been voicing their opinions. What I want to know is whether the residents of our community want City Hall to say “yes” or “no” to the sale and use of recreational marijuana in our community.

Recreational marijuana becomes legal on Jan. 1, 2020, and we need to be prepared for that day when it comes. I encourage the residents of our community to join the conversation and let your elected officials know what you think about this issue. There are a lot of questions that need to be asked and answered, and I need your help to understand what you want your city government to do.

Do we know if a recreational marijuana dispensary will set up shop in Sterling? Currently, that is unknown. Written into the CRTA is the primary reason for its passage, which is to achieve “social equity” in “communities that have been disproportionately impacted by both poverty and cannabis drug law enforcement.”

I am not so sure that our community qualifies for a dispensary under that condition. Initially, recreational marijuana permits are limited to established medical marijuana dispensaries (there are 55 statewide) with another 75 permits becoming available in October 2019. Because of the “social equity” emphasis, many of these permits will be heading toward the metro-Chicago area, as well as Rockford, Peoria, the East St. Louis metro area, and other large metro areas across Illinois. And let’s not forget the college towns. Each community with a major college or university will surely have a dispensary. That leaves a handful of permits for the remaining communities that approve the sale of recreational marijuana. The costs for permits and annual renewal fees will make it impossible for old hippie Pete to open a pot shop in his garage. But, what do we do if a dispensary does want to open in Sterling?

As much as some people may not like the idea of legal recreational marijuana, it is legal. Some do not like the fact that tobacco, alcohol and gambling exist either, yet we regulate the sale and use of these and tax them too. We must accept the fact that recreational marijuana will be used, and knowing that, we can use this fact to our advantage.

The economic development potential and revenue-generating capability of recreational marijuana cannot be easily dismissed. Do we want to cap the number of dispensaries that can be opened in our community? Do we adopt zoning that will allow dispensaries and follow on businesses to occupy empty storefronts in the Downtown Business District? Do we allow them to set up shop in the West Business Corridor to stimulate economic development in an economically distressed area of our community?

The CRTA allows municipalities to impose a 3% sales tax on recreational marijuana which, for the city of Sterling, could generate tens of thousands of dollars that can be used to benefit our community. Do we want this revenue to beef up our city budgets?

There are studies that support the advantages and disadvantages of recreational marijuana. Letters and editorials supporting both sides of this issue have been published in local print media. Communities are lining up on both sides as well. Morton recently said “no” to the sale and use of recreational marijuana, while Galesburg is moving forward with approval of its sale and use. Now is not the time to hit the panic button. Now is the time to talk about the issue of legal recreational marijuana, as a community, and what we are going to do about it.

Jim Wise is an at-large alderman for the city of Sterling.

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