DECATUR — More than two years after voting to opt out of allowing recreational cannabis dispensaries in the city, the Decatur City Council — spurred by a two of its more liberal members — briefly revisited the subject Monday evening.
The discussion took place after the council swiftly worked through a relatively unnewsworthy agenda.
When Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe asked if there was "other business" to discuss, Councilman David Horn urged his colleagues to reverse their 2019 decision to opt out of allowing recreational sales and other cannabis-related businesses.
"The city needs to find new sources of revenue, and a cannabis dispensary in Decatur, as well as other cannabis-related businesses, will bring a needed source of revenue to the city," Horn said.
Horn, the lone "yes" vote on allowing recreational sales, has long been a critic of the move, saying that the city is unnecessarily leaving potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue on the tax.
This time, Horn found an ally in Councilman Bill Faber. Faber voted "no" in 2019, but said Monday that he wanted to make a motion to reconsider the vote, a procedural move he is entitled to make since he was on the prevailing side of the initial vote.
"I believe that the time has come and the impetus of the community is with us," Faber said, wishing to have it on the council agenda for November or December.
However, city attorney Wendy Morthland informed the council that they could not take any formal action on a motion since they were in the "other business" portion of the meeting. She said they could still have city staff put it on a future agenda if there was a consensus.
This led to an informal poll, with Faber, Horn and Councilman Dennis Cooper indicating their desire for the issue to be revisited.
Moore Wolfe and council members Ed Culp, Lisa Gregory and Chuck Kuhle said they did not want to revisit the issue, enough to squash the issue for now. The mayor subsequently adjourned the meeting.
The issue, though long simmering even after the 2019 vote, will soon come to a boil as the state of Illinois prepares to issue 185 new dispensary licenses, three of which would be located in Macon County.
The licenses were awarded in three lotteries held this summer, but their issuance has been halted due to pending court challenges.
However, once the licenses are awarded, the window will be short for Decatur to make a final decision on dispensaries as licensees must identify a physical location within 180 days.
Currently, there are three municipalities in Macon County that have opted in to cannabis sales: Argenta, Harristown and Maroa.
Harristown, with its proximity to Interstate 72 on the outskirts of Decatur, is thought to be the odds-on favorite location for a dispensary.
This would mean that the dispensary would likely serve mostly Decatur residents but the city would not benefit from the sales tax revenue generated.
"So the real question that we have before us is whether we want Decatur residents going to nearby municipalities like Harristown to purchase this legal product, or do we want the revenue to remain in Decatur?" Horn asked his colleagues.
There is public support for dispensaries, at least in Decatur Township. An advisory referendum in March 2020 found that 62% of voters supported cannabis sales. However, there are some city residents who do not reside in the township and vice-versa.
In a brief debate before the meeting adjourned, a majority of the council still indicated that they do not want recreational cannabis sales within city limits.
"I mean, we've already traded our morals for tax dollars when we allowed poker machines," Culp said. "And we're going to do it again? People who supported me to get in this office do not want cannabis. I'm with Councilman Kuhle on that."
Kuhle has long been one of the council's most vocal opponents of recreational marijuana sales.
"We could make just as much money if not more if we brought a Chick-fil-a in, so the money is insignificant," Kuhle said, repeating a line he invoked during a candidate debate earlier this year. "And we've had a death in this community because of cannabis, and I think it's a negative and I think you're going down the wrong path."
The exchange was civil and polite, but Faber pointed told Kuhle that "you are on the wrong side of history."
Still, the anti-dispensary position remains the position of the majority of the council. But Horn, two years removed from being the lone pro-dispensary voice on the council, sees progress.
"I think that the closer Macon County gets to having a dispensary in the county, the more likely we are to have four or more votes," Horn said.
In other news
The council also approved a $30,166 agreement with the University of Illinois for hydraulic, sediment and nutrient monitoring in the upper Sangamon River watershed.
The agreement will provide monitoring and analysis at three Lake Decatur watershed locations: the Sangamon River, Friends Creek and Long Creek. It's the second year the city has partnered with the university for these services.
The council also approved the acceptance of a $110,808 grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation to pay for additional traffic enforcement.
The grant will pay overtime costs for DUI, speeding and distracting driving enforcement around holidays and other major dates like Super Bowl weekend.
The resolution passed unanimously, though it sparked a brief conversation about traffic enforcement, which Faber said appeared to be down this summer.
Interim Police Chief Shane Brandel said "an unprecedented violent crime surge" this summer led to the department to focus on higher priorities.
"Couple that with the fact we are at a crisis when it comes to staffing," Brandel said. "So we really, I hate to say it, have to prioritize what we do."
"And so when you have in the summertime, for example, in the month of July, we had 36 shootings, I basically had to divert our resources there," he said. "And we've seen a considerable decrease in shootings since July just from those efforts. So, it is a constant balancing act."
The council also approved this year's Halloween trick-or-treating hours. It will take place on Sunday, Oct. 31, from 5 to 8 p.m.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, those participating in trick-or-treating, including those passing out candy, are asked to maintain social distance of six feet and wear face coverings.
The city is also encouraging people from the same house to trick-or-treat together and is discouraging mixed household trick-or-treaters.
Children are asked not to consume treats during trick-or-treating or until inspected by an adult.