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OUR VIEW: Location of dispensaries important

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Illinois will become the 11th state to allow adult-use cannabis on Jan. 1. 

The tightrope walk needs to be precise.

Cities deciding to allow retail locations for cannabis must be cautious.

There's an extremely fine line that must be trodden on the location of a dispensary. That line may be even finer than the one cities have to walk deciding whether they'll allow cannabis to be sold within their borders. That one is just the first in a series of decisions.

One of the arguments Gov. J.B. Pritzker made as he battled for legalization of recreational cannabis was that minority ownership was at least some sort of goal. But there's also a concern that neighborhoods impacted by drugs and the war on drugs will now have to have dispensaries on their streets. The not-in-my-backyard argument includes a fear of increased marijuana use in the immediate area of dispensaries, and complaints about odor. Those complaints are legitimate, and need to be addressed or at least considered.

Dispensaries are often located where alcohol outlets are nearby, adding more issues for disadvantaged communities to deal with, including a greater number of marijuana-related hospitalizations. Anti-marijuana activists are increasingly concerned about dispensaries being located near schools thanks to lax zoning laws. Making a dispensary the key to “revitalization” of an area can easily and quickly backfire.

Meanwhile, with cannabis legal within Illinois, there will definitely be people who are going to purchase and consume it. Just because a city or village declines to allow dispensaries, their citizens who want to substance will be driving someplace else to get what they want, taking their tax dollars out of town. If potential dispensaries are prohibited, not only do potential owners lose, taxing bodies also lose.

Thanks to the limited amount of time cannabis dispensaries have been open in states where the substance is legalized, there's little information of value available about the long-term effects of their location. Regardless of the decision of location, the city will owe a closer eye on the neighborhood to its citizens.

One of the additional issues that needs to be pondered is that a black market will still exist. One undoubtedly exists now, and will not go away, especially in cities that decide against dispensaries. One of California's principal issues is unlicensed dispensaries. There are 169 licensed shops in Los Angeles, yet an estimated 1,700 operating without licenses.

Isn't it interesting to observe that, in retrospect, legalizing recreational cannabis was not the final step but the first one?


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