Practically the entire village of Oak Park would be off limits when it comes to distributing recently legalized medical marijuana under a proposed ordinance going before the board of trustees next week.
The Rush Oak Park Hospital District near Madison Street and Harlem Avenue and a couple of blocks of commercial space across the street are the only two areas in the village where a dispensary would be allowed, under zoning changes recommended by the citizen-led Oak Park Plan Commission.
State law already prohibits dispensaries from opening in residential areas or within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare facility, which prevents the shops from operating throughout the vast majority of the village. Growing facilities for medical marijuana require a 2,500-foot buffer zone between the same areas and schools, putting them off-limits in Oak Park.
Without the proposed zoning change, more than two dozen city blocks, running along the perimeter of the village on North Avenue, Harlem Avenue, Roosevelt Road and Austin Boulevard, would be fair game for the dispensaries.
The proposed ordinance, recommended to the plan commission by Village Planner Craig Failor, would also prohibit the dispensaries in a few scattered blocks throughout the village zoned as non-residential business districts.
The boundaries for where dispensaries can be located will change over time, as schools, daycare centers and residential areas shift around within the village, Failor said in a telephone interview. State law prevents the village from blocking dispensaries entirely.
The proposed limitation that prevents locating dispensaries along the perimeter of the village puts the cannabis shops in the same category as pawn shops, second-hand shops, laundromats, currency exchanges, loan companies and employment agencies.
Plan Commission Chair Linda Bolte said in a telephone interview that the businesses "are not the kind of uses that we want to encourage."
"We're looking for more of a consistent commercial feel on the perimeters," she said. "I think it kept coming back to us that the hospital district appeared to be well-suited to house this sort of dispensary."
She said the commission was particularly concerned about security for such a dispensary "because of the nature of the drug that would be accommodated."
"You'd have to have a secure place … just like in a drugstore," she said.
Failor said city planners recommended limiting the dispensaries to the hospital because patients will need a prescription to the get drug.
"It's not so much keeping them out [of the rest of the village] as it is directing them to a more appropriate location," he said.