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Bloomington OKs Creation of Cannabis Task Force

Despite some members voicing concerns it might slow the process, the Bloomington City Council on Monday approved a request to establish a task force in preparation for next year’s legalization of recreational marijuana use.

Council member Jenn Carrillo proposed creating the cannabis review and implementation committee, and planned to serve as its chair. At Monday’s meeting, the council approved her request by a 6-3 vote after amending the resolution to remove Carrillo’s automatic appointment as chair and limiting the panel’s term to 90 days.

“I’m very excited that it’s moving forward,” she said. “Part of saying I’m willing to chair this (task force) is that I’m not going to bring up an idea that I’m not willing to put the muscle behind.”

Kim Bray was among those opposing the task force, saying she doesn’t see how it can be expeditious in developing the city’s plan and calling the move “premature.”

“At the end of the day, what will happen in Bloomington is what is approved or not approved by this City Council,” Bray said. “So the hard work of developing consensus among ourselves needs to start, and it needs to start right away.”

The 10-member task force will include two council members, two business owners, two law enforcement representatives, an addiction specialist, and three representatives of community groups. All appointments will be made by Mayor Tari Renner.

“I see this task force taking us in a direction that would be more about conflict than consensus,” cautioned Bray.

Donna Boelen and Mboka Mwilambwe joined Bray in voting against the task force resolution. Boelen proposed the amendments, which included removal of the phrase “prospective business owners” from the list of committee members.

“As we all know, it’s very difficult to get consensus on this (Council) with nine people here. If you add the mix of 10 more, it could end up being too many cooks in the kitchen,” said Boelen.

“I’m not too fond of task forces, given our past experience,” added Mwilambwe. “Whenever you have too many decision points, you’re also going to have too many opportunities for disagreement. It can make the process more cumbersome.”

Other council members said they believe the task force will be a useful tool in helping the city prepare for the Jan. 1 legalization. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries can apply to add recreational sales beginning Oct. 15.

“If we start today and we’re supposed to have recommendations to us by Oct. 21, we’re going to need more (time) than that,” said Jeff Crabill. “If we decide not to have the task force, we’re not going to be able to do everything we need to do.”

Only one of the 75 new recreational dispensaries the state plans to issue in March will be designated for the Bloomington area, which includes McLean and DeWitt counties.

“I’ve had three different developers at this point who have approached me about it,” said council member Jamie Mathy. “One of those three or potentially somebody else is going to get that dispensary license. I would like them all to have an equal shot where we have intelligent, rational decisions that have been made.

“So I would like to see us go down both paths of the council doing its due diligence and the task force doing its due diligence. It keeps the topic moving and forces a timeline where we can get information. Right now, we don’t know what we don’t know.”

Speaking remotely, Scott Black called the task force a “low risk, high opportunity” avenue toward getting facts about cannabis legalization on the table. Joni Painter feared the committee would “slow things down and gum up the works,” but ultimately voted for the amended resolution.

The amendments were adopted by a 6-3 vote, with Carrillo, Crabill and Julie Emig dissenting.

“I think that for a group that was advocating so much for consensus-building and us working together, those amendments did seem pretty petty,” Carrillo said, “especially considering that some of those council members didn’t even end up supporting the resolution.”

Dan Donath swearing in
Credit Izzy Carroll / WGLT
New Bloomington Police Chief Dan Donath is formally sworn in before the City Council during Monday's meeting at City Hall.

Carrillo has said she believes the city should embrace the cannabis industry to boost tourism. Proponents of legalized marijuana point to the potential tax revenue increases.

Other Business

A second formal swearing in of new Bloomington Police Chief Dan Donath took place before the council at the start of the meeting. Donath, who was initially sworn in upon his appointment last week, was also honored with a welcome reception before the meeting,

“The appointment of Chief Donath has spurred quite a few people over the last week or so to very specifically tell me what a great police force that we have and how confident they are in the great job our men and women in uniform do for us,” said Renner.

Among its other actions, the council voted unanimously in favor of a $1.02 million purchase of three new garbage trucks while also selling 2012 trucks through an online public auction; an $877,000 contract with Rowe Construction for intersection improvements at GE Road and Keaton Place/Auto Row Drive; a $129,000 workers compensation settlement agreement with retired Bloomington firefighter John Meckley; and buying two new public works trucks for $64,500.

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Joe Deacon is a reporter at WCBU.
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