The Oak Park village board underwent exhaustive, prickly discussions Monday night, often talking over each other and picking apart the legalese of two ordinances concerning regulation of recreational cannabis. The discussion at the board meeting left trustees frustrated and puzzled over what they were even voting on. 

Confusion set in when dissecting the proposed updates to village code to include a process of regulation and registration for recreational cannabis retailers, as well as rules regarding the possession of cannabis and paraphernalia.

“I think we’re going above and beyond to criminalize drug paraphernalia,” Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla said, adding that it was a tool used in the War on Drugs to incarcerate brown and black people.

“The goal in that language was to decriminalize,” said Village Attorney Paul Stephanides in response.

Instead of striking the original language, Stephanides added a further section to describe the ways in which people can possess cannabis and paraphernalia legally. 

The new section also allows police officers to take youths found in possession to an adjudication process rather than arresting and trying them in criminal court.

“Thus, there would be no criminal record to the person charged,” Stephanides said. 

Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said staff stood by the ordinance and further explained how the recommended ordinance decriminalized possession.

Trustee Simone Boutet disagreed, saying, “That’s not true.”

“Simone, I’m sorry, you always interrupt us and say it’s not true,” Pavlicek said.

Boutet moved to amend the ordinance to clarify language, prompting Mayor Anan-Abu Taleb to tell Stephanides to defend the ordinance.

“Paul, you wrote the ordinance yourself. And you’re happy with the way it is, right?” Abu-Taleb said. “I don’t want to sit here and make amendments to legal stuff that I don’t understand. I count on you to provide us with a sound judgment, so stand up for your ordinance!” 

Walker-Peddakotla also suggested making it a requirement that cannabis retailers put signage in both English and Spanish illustrating the impact cannabis possession could have for immigrants.

“Under federal immigration law, the sale or possession of cannabis is still illegal and can trigger deportation proceedings,” she said. It can prevent people from becoming naturalized citizens.

The board agreed to add that requirement and Boutet’s amendment to the code.

Further changes were discussed regarding hours of operation. Under state law, dispensaries may start operations as early as 6 a.m. and cease operations as late as 10 p.m.; staff mirrored that timeframe for Oak Park so as not be more restrictive than the state.

Boutet thought the hours should match those of the wider business community, to which Trustee Deno Andrews disagreed. 

 “It’s just so controlling and bizarre that we would say, ‘At 8 a.m. it’s OK, but at 6 a.m. it’s not.'”

Boutet relented and the hours remained consistent with state law.

She also raised concerns over what she called “sort of an equity thing,” – making it unlawful for dispensary employees to engage in employment activity without a photo identification card. 

“Which would mean that if they were enforcing, they would arrest the employees as compared with making the employer responsible,” Boutet said.

Boutet wanted to change the ordinance to make it illegal for dispensaries to hire people who do not have an ID. Andrews believed the ordinance, as written, already stated that.

Stephanides said it allowed for flexibility in case-by-case situations. Such as if an employee used a fraudulent ID, they would receive a citation instead being arrested.

The board voted to remove that part of the ordinance. 

Tensions flared when Boutet raised further concerns over the ordinance, prompting Trustee Dan Moroney to call her out for using social media instead of working with staff.

“You should have the courtesy to go to staff and talk things over,” he said. “This environment where we run to social media is toxic.”

The village manager said the board was sending staff mixed signals.

“It is confusing though because earlier we heard if we didn’t write everything in here, the public couldn’t read it transparently and understand it,” Pavlicek said. “And now, you’re asking to delete things that provide the public information. We are getting mixed messages as staff.”

“Are we voting on an amendment now or the whole thing?” asked Andrews, prior to casting votes on the code updates.

“They’re just changing these things, then it’ll be fine,” said Abu-Taleb.

“No, we’re voting on the whole thing,” said Boutet.

“On the whole thing with all of these amendments,” said Andrews. “Ok, got it.”

As Clerk Vicki Scamen proceeded to call role for vote, Walker-Peddakotla said, “Hang on, I’m just trying to understand what all of the amendments are.”

 In the end, the board approved the updated ordinance, along with the proposed amendments presented by trustees, making Oak Park cannabis legislation more in line with state law.

The board also voted to give special use designation to recreational cannabis retailers, despite Andrews argument that doing so was unnecessarily bureaucratic and Walker-Peddakotla’s disagreement with making on-site cannabis consumption lounges unlawful.  

This article has been updated to include quotes that were taken out of the print edition due to space constraints.

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