PAXTON — Paxton’s city council is taking a wait-and-see approach in deciding whether to allow — or ban — recreational cannabis businesses in the Ford County community.
The council’s license/permit/zoning committee agreed Monday night to wait to make a decision on the issue mainly because of uncertainty over two things: (1) how the law legalizing cannabis sales in Illinois will end up looking after clarifications are made to it through an anticipated trailer bill and (2) how the community feels about the issue.
Aldermen also want more time to consider the pros and cons themselves.
“This body has had how many days since this (law) has been approved by the state in which to digest the information?” Alderman Rob Steiger asked rhetorically, adding that opinions vary widely among people in town with whom he has spoken.
“Also, I don’t think this is something that’s just straight-forward and can be decided all within the purview of this little committee right now because we don’t have the information from the state to say what’s going to happen (with clarifications to the law). ... It’s not fully hashed out (by the Legislature).”
Earlier, Alderman Rob Pacey’s noted that the Illinois Municipal League (IML), which represents local units of government, recently sent a letter to leaders in the Illinois General Assembly asking them to make clarifying changes to the law legalizing recreational marijuana before it takes effect Jan. 1. The IML is asking legislators to write what is known as a trailer bill to clarify four aspects of the statute, including how municipalities can regulate recreational marijuana.
“I guess I would point out that we’re sitting here discussing a law that the Illinois state Legislature is going to be rehashing and adding a rider bill to,” Pacey said, “so, quite frankly, we’re trying to predict something that doesn’t exist.”
Municipalities are authorized to prohibit cannabis businesses under the recently signed Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act. Some towns — including Naperville, Forsyth, Morris and El Paso — already have done so.
However, Pacey suggested the council wait to see how the law ends up being clarified before moving forward with further discussions on the issue.
In the meantime, Alderman Mike Wilson suggested the council proceed immediately with approving an ordinance allowing the city to impose a 3 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana purchases that would be made in town. Wilson noted that the Illinois Department of Revenue has given municipalities and counties a Sept. 30 deadline to decide whether to impose their own sales tax on cannabis purchases.
Wilson noted that imposing a sales tax does not mean the council is either in favor or against allowing cannabis businesses in Paxton, but it does mean the city would at least be in position to tax marijuana purchases if it were to allow a cannabis business to set up shop locally.
Other aldermen stressed the same point.
“In passing the tax, I will emphasize it does not mean the council will pass licensing and permitting for that type of business,” Steiger said.
“I agree,” Pacey said. “In passing the tax ordinance, we are not at all agreeing to allow it, ban it, or anything in between. We’re just simply making a protective revenue decision, I guess, if you will. We can debate the economic development merits of it or the moral/social (issues) later, I guess.”
The committee voted 4-0 Monday to recommend the full council approve an ordinance imposing the sales tax the following night.
Meanwhile, resident Denver Piatt questioned how the council’s decision to postpone making a decision on the local regulation of cannabis businesses could impact the likelihood of the city gaining such a business. Piatt noted that the city may lose out on such a business if it remains unclear as of Jan. 1 whether Paxton is open to allowing one.
“If the application date is Jan. 1, then I feel that decision needs to be made by Jan. 1,” Piatt said.
Alderman Deane Geiken, though, reiterated the need to gain more information from both the state and the community — and for council members to better educate themselves about the law — before moving forward. Geiken suggested that to help gather community input, the city consider an advisory ballot question.
Residents like Carl Richardson and Tyger McClure agreed that there should be no rush to make a decision.
“I think that the earlier comment about educating ourselves is a good one,” McClure said. “We need to educate ourselves and probably — because of who we are as a community — wait and see what we are going to allow.”
“I think that Paxton should go ahead and do the tax thing but sit back and wait and see what Rankin ends up doing,” Richardson said, referring to a proposal for the nearby Vermilion County village to bring in a cannabis dispensary, cafe and bakery. “Let them deal with the hurt and pain in Rankin instead of Paxton.”
Monday’s committee meeting marked the second time in a two-week period that council members discussed and heard community input on whether to allow or ban cannabis businesses in town. However, unlike the first meeting — in which overwhelming support for allowing cannabis businesses was voiced by a small group of residents in attendance — council members on Monday heard some residents speak out against the idea.
“While I see the value of tax revenue, so often the thing that you’re getting the revenue off of can bring about a lot of negativity,” said Grace Meents, who was joined by fellow resident Ruth Ann Noble in voicing opposition Monday. “Revenue is great — I know that — but sometimes by having that revenue it causes problems.”