Monticello city council members are struggling on how to regulate cannabis businesses in town – or even whether to allow them at all once the recreational use of marijuana becomes legal in Illinois on Jan. 1.
“I myself am torn,” council member Tammy Sebens said at Monday’s council session. “I can see the tax benefits and so forth. We can gain a lot from that as far as bringing that in. But then, it’s like you’re losing the innocence of small town Monticello if you do that.”
As a former sheriff’s deputy, alderman Wendall Brock was also conflicted about changing a marijuana abstinence message that he helped convey to youth for decades.
“We have preached for years ‘don’t mess with marijuana,’” said Brock. “How do I look at those same kids today and say, ‘you know what, I changed my mind.’”
“How do we flip 180 degrees and say, ‘well, we’ve changed our mind,’” added Brock. “I
Fellow council member Jeremy Jones countered that opinions have changed, due to research on the medical benefits of cannabis products and studies that show that marijuana is not as harmful as once thought.
“The reason we flipped 180 degrees is because science shows that it’s not as damaging as we thought it was,” said Jones. He also claimed the idea that marijuana is a gateway substance that leads to the use of harder drugs has been “debunked.”
About 25 minutes of discussion followed one of several questions City Administrator Terry Summers feels the city needs to answer. Council member spent all of those minutes on Summers’ first query, upon which further questions rest: Should Monticello allow licensed businesses to sell marijuana within the city limits at all?
Aldermen felt it was too early to give a definitive answer.
After being told that some current zoning designations would automatically allow some cannabis businesses, including in the downtown business district, the council did decide to consider a temporary moratorium in order to give them more time to make decisions on the issue.
“The moratorium gives us time,” said Mayor Larry Stoner. “I want it done right so that we don’t have to backtrack and fix things that we let slide through.”
Since most of the city’s regulatory authority would come via zoning ordinance changes, the issue will likely be in front of the city planning and zoning board on Sept. 16.
Brock wants there to be a crowd at that meeting, one that will give the council what he feels is essential input on the issue.
“Please, please attend, and let your voice be heard,” pleaded Brock. “It’s very important to us to get some guidance.”
The moratorium will likely be considered by the city council at its next meeting on Aug. 26.
The scene played out in Monticello Monday night is being repeated by town boards across the state. It has been confusing enough that the Illinois General Assembly is considering additional legislation to clarify the marijuana sales issue.