DECATUR — After hearing from residents for more than two hours, the Decatur City Council has voted against allowing recreational cannabis dispensaries in the city.
Council members Chuck Kuhle, Lisa Gregory, Pat McDaniel, Rodney Walker, Bill Faber, and Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe voted to "opt out" of allowing sales. Councilman David Horn voted to allow the dispensaries.
Later in the meeting, the council voted 4-3 to opt out of allowing cannabis-related businesses, such as cultivation and processing centers, in Decatur.
The third question on the council’s agenda addressed restrictions that will be placed on open consumption and use of cannabis. The council voted to table the measure for an upcoming meeting.
Several council members expressed concerns about how allowing recreational sales could affect the community, particularly young people, and said they had gotten feedback from residents who did not want the city to allow the sales. A few members said they might be in favor of reconsidering the decision later, after seeing what happens in other communities.
“What I heard unequivocally from law enforcement was, ‘You will never get enough money to cover the problems this will bring,’” Moore Wolfe said, speaking before the vote. “I went to health officials, ER doctors, those that work with overdose patients every day, and they said, ‘Don’t do this.’”
She acknowledged that there are others who want the sales to be legal, but added: “This is a tough position for us to be in, but it’s our job to make the best possible decisions we can.”
Horn pointed out that while medical dispensaries are allowed in Decatur under current law, one has not opened in the city. He said allowing the recreational sales could help people who use cannabis for pain relief and other problems.
"There is a problem in Decatur and that is a lack of access to medical cannabis," Horn said. "One key solution is to have an adult-use cannabis dispensary in Decatur. We have individuals who have medical needs that are not being met now."
State lawmakers this year made Illinois the 11th state to allow recreational use of marijuana, starting Jan. 1. The legislation allows cities to decide whether to allow dispensaries and businesses within their boundaries. Municipalities can “opt out” of allowing sales and can set some restrictions on where cannabis can be consumed.
Dozens of advocates for allowing cannabis sales spoke before the vote, saying its use would be legal whether the sales were allowed or not. They argued that people would drive to other communities, which would benefit financially, and that people who need cannabis for medicinal purposes would benefit from being able to buy it in Decatur. One of the speakers brought a petition that she said was signed by 1,200
Opponents of allowing dispensaries included some community leaders, including Macon County Sheriff Tony Brown, Crossing Healthcare CEO Tanya Andricks and former Decatur City Councilwoman Dana Ray, who is also a physician at Crossing.
Faber unsuccessfully attempted to amend the ordinance to attach a referendum, effectively asking the question of the public on the next election's ballot. "My aim is to get the issue decided by the community," he said.
His motion was supported by Walker and Horn, but was opposed by Kuhle, Gregory, McDaniel and Moore Wolfe.
Faber also attempted to table the vote and take it at a future time, but that motion was opposed by Gregory, McDaniel, Kuhle and Moore Wolfe.
Kuhle and Moore Wolfe, in explaining their decisions, both made mention of the $70 million drug treatment and social services campus being built north of downtown near the Wabash Crossing neighborhood. The campus, which includes multiple facilities devoted to rehabilitation for those addicted to opioids and other drugs, is being funded by the private foundation of former Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett.
“This is a family community, and it seems to be counterintuitive to me to be saying to our kids and our families, ‘This is OK,’ at the same time that we are building and supporting a center to help people who are addicted to drugs,” Moore Wolfe said.
Buffett, who has given millions of dollars to Decatur-area law enforcement and social service agencies, as well as the city of Decatur, has spoken publicly about his opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Kuhle compared the amount of money that could be brought to Decatur though taxes on cannabis with an estimated $125 million donated by Buffett over the years, much of it to efforts to help law enforcement and fight drug addiction.
“I personally can’t think of a more flat-out rejection of our former sheriff and his foundation than to approve the sale of recreational marijuana without a wait-and-see approach,” he said, adding that he wanted to “watch and learn” from communities that opt in.
Resident Anita Clark said marijuana can have negative effects on children’s developing brains. “I don’t understand why our governor chose to do something that puts the public and our children at risk,” she said.
Andricks made a similar point, saying that through her work, she sees that access to marijuana can cause issues in developing brains that can have tragic outcomes. “It is important right now to send a message to the community to consider keeping the access at bay,” she said.
While advocates suggested that dispensaries could bring more jobs to the community, Brown said there are plenty of jobs in Decatur that pay a living wage.
Speaking after the vote, resident Autumn Woosley said she was unhappy with the outcome and felt the council members didn’t listen to the public. “They said they wanted to hear from us and they essentially ignored us,” Woosley said.
Drew Laney, a 21-year-old Richland Community College student, said he was disappointed in how the council responded to public comment.
“They didn’t even want to listen to us,” said Laney, who is the Young Democratic Socialists Chair for the Central Illinois Democratic Socialists of America. “I felt that Horn and Faber were the only ones listening and they are the only ones in support of a democracy.”
Contact Analisa Trofimuk at (217) 421-7985. Follow her on Twitter: @AnalisaTro
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