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Opening a recreational cannabis dispensary in Oak Park might not be as easy as going to village hall and applying for a business license, under a recommendation the Oak Park Plan Commission is sending to the Oak Park Board of Trustees for consideration.

At the Plan Commission’s meeting on Aug. 1, commissioners voted 6-0 to make require a special-use permit for marijuana dispensaries, rather than making dispensaries a permitted use under the zoning code.

That means anyone planning to open a dispensary would have to apply for a special permit to sale recreational cannabis in the village, a process that involves a public hearing and village board approval.

Village staff presented the Plan Commission with a recommendation to make recreational cannabis sales a permitted use, but commissioners were reluctant to “open the floodgates” – as Commissioner Iris Sims described it – to recreational cannabis sales.

Recreational cannabis will become legal in Illinois on Jan. 1, 2020, and Oak Park already is set to get its first dispensary. The Seven Point dispensary, 1132 Lake St., which has operated as a medical cannabis dispensary since 2016, plans to transition into recreational sales.

State law permits all medical cannabis sales facilities to automatically transition to recreational sales when the law takes effect.

Plan commissioner Lawrence Brozek said that unless the village takes action to regulate recreational cannabis sales, any new dispensary will not be subjected to a review similar to the kind that takes place for alcohol sales in the village.

To sell alcohol in Oak Park, merchants must first appear before the village’s Liquor Control Review Board and the Oak Park Board of Trustees in order to receive a license.

While potential merchants of recreational cannabis will not have to acquire a license from the village to sale the drug, they would, if the Oak Park Board of Trustees takes the Plan Commission’s recommendation, have to appear before either the Oak Park Zoning Board of Appeals or the Plan Commission to present their plan. It then would also need final approval by the Oak Park Board of Trustees.

This would give residents and opportunity to weigh in on any proposal for recreational sales.

Village Planner Craig Failor said special use-permits are reviewed by the Oak Park Zoning Board of Appeals, but the code gives village staff some flexibility to pitch special-use permit request to the Plan Commission if the ZBA is unable to review the request in a timely manner.

Sims voiced her general opposition to the statewide recreational cannabis legalization law, saying it is in part “driven by the economics of this state.”

“This is an experiment and hasn’t been studied,” she said.

Some communities such as Naperville, Libertyville and Bloomingdale have recently voted to ban the sale of recreational cannabis in their municipalities.

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