DECATUR— An advisory referendum on marijuana sales in Decatur will no longer be included on the April ballot.
On Thursday, the Municipal Officers Electoral Board upheld an objection to the referendum appearing on the April 6 ballot, determining the petition didn't meet the minimum requirement of 1,949 signatures, or 8% of the population that voted in the last April election.
The referendum would have asked voters: "Should the city of Decatur allow the sale of recreational cannabis and cannabis-infused products to adults 21 and older?"
Jerrold Stocks, who filed the objection on Jan. 8, said the petition for referendum failed to meet other Illinois Election Code standards, citing signatures coming from non-Decatur residents, incomplete voter information and structural inconsistency regarding the heading on several pages of the petition.
Petitioner Lisa Kendall and her legal counsel, Samuel Cahnman, requested the board lower the required amount of signatures needed due to the difficulty posed to the collection process by restrictions and health concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The request was denied.
Kendall told the board that a personal autoimmune condition making her more at-risk for contracting COVID and the increase in positive cases in Macon County has hindered her ability to get the signatures. The last signature was collected on December 19, 2019, she said.
“We had hoped that by the summer, by May and June based on what the initial certain news estimates were talking about, that we would be able to get out a few months after the quarantine started and start gathering petition signatures again,” Kendall said.
Stocks argued that no effort was made to collect signatures since December 2019 and no legal restrictions prevented further circulation of the petition, as federal law prohibits a governor’s executive order from limiting election activity.
Those anticipated to help gather signatures were in the “dozens,” Kendall said, “but I’m not willing to risk the public health and safety of our advocates and activists.”
It was also pointed out that the petitioner had twice brought a request to lower the number of required signatures before a federal judge, which were both denied, one being a federal relief court order from May 2020. Cahnman said the current COVID positivity rate in Macon County has grown significantly since then and would “probably have a different result” if brought before a federal judge once more.
The petitioner’s counsel showed the highest positivity rate in the county occurred in November.
Arguing in support of the board lowering the number of required signatures, Cahnman referenced an Idaho case “where they reduced the number of signatures required in a petition referendum case.” Stocks’ response was the board shouldn’t rewrite the Election Code.
Stocks said his ultimate goal in filing the objection is “preservation of the election process.”
“I’m not here because I think consumers of cannabis are evil and malevolent, or it’s some grand mischief. Rather, I’m somewhat far more of a Libertarian than most people in this community,” Stocks said Thursday. “But the Election Code has to be followed.”
The Decatur City Council in October voted against allowing recreational cannabis sales in the community. Council members at the time raised concerns about the impact on young people and other issues.
Community members in favor of cannabis sales in Decatur used the hearing Thursday to share their thoughts.
“We are moving the direction that we should be in this country. The majority of people in Decatur (township) voted and said that they wanted to have legal cannabis sales here,” said Cameron Williams, a 27-year-old from Decatur. “Let the people’s voice be heard.”
Williams was making reference to an advisory referendum in March to allow recreational cannabis sales in Decatur Township that passed by a sizable margin. During that same election, voters in Maroa also approved a similar measure, while the proposition failed in Blue Mound and Warrensburg.
David Wilhour, 80, doesn’t think allowing cannabis sales in Decatur is a good idea and expressed opposition to the referendum being placed on April’s ballot.
“All government bodies need money, but we don’t need that money,” said Wilhour. “It’s going to cost us more in the end than it’s going to gain. Look at all these states that have legalized. They’ve had nothing but welfare costs and it just continues to grow.”
PHOTOS: Decatur City Council meeting on cannabis sales
Contact Garrett Karsten at (217) 421-6949. Follow him on Twitter: @GarrettKarsten