Working quickly in September to send a message to recreational marijuana entrepreneurs, Oak Park's village board hung out the "Open for Business" shingle often touted by Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb. The effort was also intended to increase Oak Park's chances of winning multiple state dispensary licenses from a limited pool.
In a 4-3 vote the board majority set aside a unanimous recommendation from the village Plan Commission and decided pot dispensaries would be allowed in commercial spaces anywhere in the village without a special-use permit or hearing from the board.
Now there may be some second thoughts.
We're hearing the item may return to the village board and that at least one or two trustees may be rethinking their initial vote. There is also some pressure being brought to bear from two sources we've heard from. Oak Park Township has informally asked the village board to require special-use permits for pot dispensaries. That's an unusual step for one elected body to take toward another. And leaders of the North Avenue District business group are lobbying for, at least, special-use requirements and possibly for strict limits on how many and where such dispensaries might be located along the village's northern border.
Recreational marijuana is about to be legal in Illinois. We support that for several reasons. Chief among them is the damage done over decades as a broken and racist criminal justice system lowered the boom on black and brown communities in enforcing pot laws.
That said, selling marijuana is not the same as selling socks. Applying a standard similar to the licensing and approval process employed in granting a liquor license seems appropriate to us. Over the decades — since the 1970s really — Oak Park has gotten less fearful of where liquor could be sold. There used to be strict rules on how many liquor licenses could be located on a single street, how many seats a restaurant had to have to serve alcohol. As we've gotten more confident, we've eased up on those limits. It is from that point of confidence that we should start licensing pot sales.
Answer Book 2019
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