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Normal Begins Exploring Cannabis Options, Hears From Connect Transit Board Members

Joe Deacon
Corporation counsel Brian Day, left, discusses the state's Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act with the Town Council during a work session before Monday's regular Council meeting.

As Normal begins to consider how it wants to approach the upcoming legalization of recreational marijuana, Town Council members hope to get public input from the business and law enforcement communities.

Following a Monday work session exploring options for regulating and taxing cannabis sales, Mayor Chris Koos said the town should examine states where marijuana has been legalized.

“I think that's all valid. It’s new ground, and states that have done it have seen some things happen that they didn’t expect. I think we need to understand what those are and how that might affect what happens in Illinois,” said Koos, who noted during the council discussion that he has seen reports from areas with legal cannabis of increases in illegal marijuana sales undercutting licensed dispensaries.

The council will need to decide whether to opt out of allowing recreational cannabis sales, or control it through changes to land-use zoning restrictions. Town attorney Brian Day said the next option would be to decide whether to regulate where cannabis businesses could operate through either “special use” or “permitted use” zoning.

The town will also need to decide how it wants to tax cannabis sales. While current local sales taxes will apply, the state law also allows municipalities to impose a special cannabis sales tax of up to 3%.

“We have decisions to make as a council,” said Koos. “We've got to think this through, and that will come up pretty soon in another council meeting.”

A motion to initiate zoning text amendments will be on the Oct. 21 agenda to start the public planning discussion. At that time, council members hope to hear from law enforcement officials and business leaders.

“We’ll have to start the process as they talked about, not necessarily moving toward a cannabis ordinance but to get it to the planning commission for public comment,” said Koos.

Connect Transit Discussion 

Connect Transit Board of Trustees chairman Mike McCurdy and vice chair Ryan Whitehouse answer questions from the Normal Town Council during Monday's meeting.
Credit Joe Deacon / WGLT

Facing tough questions about route changes, ridership and accessibility, representatives of the Connect Transit board  touted a healthy bus service that serves the public’s needs.

During a heated open discussion during Monday's council meeting, board vice chairman Ryan Whitehouse disputed an allegation by council woman Karyn Smith that the service displays a prejudice toward low-income and disabled riders.

“We are not trying to discriminate against anybody,” said Whitehouse. “We are trying to provide the best service to as many people possible in the system, on the resources that we have.”

Council member Stan Nord questioned a recent decision to purchase up to 17 electric buses over the next three to four years, saying they are heavier than the current buses and unable to serve certain areas.

Board chairman Mike McCurdy responded that service has never been pulled due to the weight or size of a bus, while Whitehouse added that the Federal Transit Administration encourages shifting to “cutting-edge practices” and that the buses will be purchased with money from a federal grant.

“We are using the money to buy electric buses because that money can be spent on electric buses. If we don’t spend that money on electric buses, that money goes back to the federal treasury,” Whitehouse said.

While Connect Transit has faced recent criticism over the elimination of certain routes and a now postponed rate increase, McCurdy explained that the changes were made to improve system efficiency and financial viability. He maintained the service is in good shape.

“We had our third-best ridership year in system history, 2.4 million rides, and ridership is trending up,” McCurdy told the Council. “That tells me as board chair is that this system is healthy and serving the public that needs it.”

Editor’s note: WGLT Program Director Mike McCurdy is also chair of the Connect Transit board.

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Joe Deacon is a reporter at WCBU.
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