River Forest to host public hearing on cannabis

Village prepares for legalized recreational use, beginning Jan. 1

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By ROBERT J. LIFKA

Contributing Reporter

River Forest residents will have the opportunity to share their opinions on allowing recreational cannabis business establishments in the village when the village board holds a public hearing on the matter, Monday, Sept. 9.

On June 25, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill that will legalize statewide consumption of marijuana for non-medicinal purposes, effective Jan. 1. While local officials will not be able to prevent people from possessing marijuana, they may determine whether residents can legally buy it in their hometown and under what circumstances.

During discussion at the Aug. 26 village board meeting, officials agreed to schedule the public hearing at 6 p.m., Sept. 9, preceding the regular board meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. that evening.

In scheduling the public hearing, officials decided against an outright ban on recreational cannabis business establishments. No formal vote was taken but no official spoke in favor of such a ban.

The discussion, which followed a presentation by Lisa Scheiner, assistant village administrator, centered on how the village should move forward in considering allowing recreational cannabis business establishments.

Although municipalities have until Dec. 31 to enact ordinances governing recreational cannabis business establishments, local officials have only until Oct. 1 to impose a local tax of 3 percent on sales.

Issues to be addressed include requiring the operator of a recreational cannabis business establishment to obtain a special-use permit; allowing smoking lounges in such businesses; and establishing buffer zones around schools or daycare centers.

Trustees agreed with Village President Cathy Adduci's recommendation to move the discussion forward by scheduling the public hearing.

Trustee Tom Cargie cited the value of obtaining citizen input in supporting the public hearing.

Several trustees supported the special-use requirement.

"Even if we ban the businesses, we won't be banning use," Trustee Respicio Vazquez said. "I'm in favor of exploring the uses."

Trustee Bob O'Connell supported investigating the special-use requirement, noting, "It gives us control."  

"If we allow a dispensary, we can still ban a smoking lounge," Cargie added.

In her presentation, Scheiner explained that municipalities are allowed to dictate the number of legal dispensaries within their boundaries; determine how cannabis businesses are operated, such as hours of operation; dictate the location of cannabis businesses as they relate to points of interest, such as schools, government buildings, and liquor stores; and regulate the zoning of cannabis businesses in specific districts.

She explained that existing medical marijuana dispensaries, such as those in Oak Park and Elmwood Park, would be each allowed to open a recreational cannabis shop at their current site. Noting the requirement for a 1,500-foot separation between establishments and the location of the medical marijuana dispensary near Harlem Avenue and Lake Street in Oak Park, O'Connell pointed out that an area in the northeast corner of River Forest will be off limits for a new recreational cannabis business establishment.

The state is only allowing 47 recreational cannabis business establishments in 2020 within the Bureau of Labor Statistics Region called the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin region, which includes River Forest.

Noting that restriction and others, Adduci said, "There won't be a proliferation."

Police Chief Jim O'Shea said police officials in Elmwood Park and Oak Park have not reported seeing increases in driving-while-intoxicated arrests but noted the difficulty that police officers experience when stopping drivers they believe are impaired.

He explained that an officer can identify a driver as being impaired and can rule out alcohol as a factor but even testing a blood sample or urine sample cannot identify cannabis as a cause.

"We're learning as much as we can," he said. "We're still trying to perfect the testing. Statistics are not as clear as we would want them to be."

Adduci stressed the importance of publicizing the public hearing, especially through social media. She said those unable to attend the public hearing will be able to submit written questions.

"We still have a long way to go," Adduci said.

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