Waukegan to schedule second recreational cannabis public forum prior to voting on ordinance

Chicago Tribune 1 month ago

Waukegan aldermen decided Monday to postpone a vote on an ordinance that would set up zoning areas for potential adult-use recreational marijuana facilities until after another community meeting is held on the issue.

The City Council’s Community Development Committee sent the ordinance to the full council for consideration Monday night following a presentation Monday afternoon.

But City Council members said they believe a second public meeting on the issue should be publicized and held.

Director of Planning and Economic Development Noelle Kischer-Lepper said Tuesday morning the community meeting has been scheduled for Oct. 30 at 5:30 p.m. in the Waukegan City Council Chambers.

She said it is not being called a public hearing because a formal public hearing was already held before the Community Development Committee.

When the ordinance came up at Monday night’s council meeting, Ald. Ann Taylor, 9th, said she favored getting more feedback from residents prior to voting on the issue.

“I’d like to have a public forum outside of just the Planning and Zoning one,” Taylor said.

Ald. Edith Newsome, 5th, also said she felt another hearing would be appropriate.

While officials noted time is a factor with a decision needed by the end of the year, the board agreed to hold an additional public hearing.

Taylor and others noted the previous hearing before the committee was not well-attended and did not provide a good gauge on community opinion.

Both the committee and council were told by city attorneys and zoning officials that Waukegan could collect a 3% tax on recreational cannabis sales from any local dispensaries.

At the advice of city attorney Bob Long, the board did pass an ordinance adopting and levying a municipal cannabis retailers occupation tax.

Long said if the council decides not to allow one or more dispensaries, the tax levy would be dormant. But, if dispensaries are allowed, the city’s tax would be in place and ready to go.

Aldermen did not have a lengthy discussion on the issue, but some council members said they were struggling between the needed revenue that dispensaries could provide to the city versus whether residents want sales in the city.

Mayor Sam Cunningham also agreed to an additional hearing, but stressed, “We are under a time frame.”

The city must make a decision by the end of the year whether or not to opt out of the recreational marijuana program.

Ald. Gregory Moisio, 3rd, said the city needs the revenue and has nothing to gain by banning dispensaries.

“I’m for this. It’s coming anyway,” he said. “We can say no and let more dollars (slip) out of Waukegan.

“We must be the most unfriendly city to business ever,” Moisio added. “This is tax revenue.”

Moisio also said that the people who turn out at public hearings in general are the ones who oppose the issue at hand.

“There may be people in your ward who don’t want it, but ask (them), ‘Do you want your taxes raised?’” Moisio said. He added that additional revenue also helps avoid public safety layoffs.

In a presentation to the Community Development Committee, Doug Durando, an attorney for the city, and Kischer-Lepper said that under state requirements, Waukegan could likely host two dispensaries.

Under the ordinance being considered, zoning would be used to restrict dispensary locations to one downtown and one at Fountain Square.

Under state taxation formulas, Durando said that “theoretically,” for every $1 million in Waukegan sales, the city would receive $30,000 in tax revenue under its ordinance, which would levy the maximum allowable 3%. The state will receive about 7% of revenue from recreational marijuana sales.

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