Bloomington City Council members say they welcome marijuana dispensaries in their city when recreational pot becomes legal Jan. 1, but they aren’t ready to embrace so-called cannabis cafes, saying they require more study.
The council on Monday voted on a flurry on cannabis-related measures that for the first time put the city’s full governing body on the record after months of public debate.
“This is obviously probably one of the most contentious and divisive issues that this council has had to deal with in a very, very long time,” Mayor Tari Renner declared after all of the votes were taken. “Certainly, for roughly half of the council that’s new, this has been probably by far the most contentious issue.”
The council voted 8-1 to accept city staff recommendations for allowing cannabis dispensaries and no other types of marijuana businesses, including growers, transporters and infusers.
Council member Mboka Mwilambwe cast the only "no" vote. He said he’s concerned about how the spread of cannabis will impact property values.
“Even for those individuals who have a fairly relaxed attitude about cannabis, they just don’t want it near their property because they are worried about the impact to their property values,” Mwilambwe said. “I think that’s a valid concern.”
The council also voted 7-2 against adopting the recommendations of the city’s planning commission which endorsed on-site consumption and established setbacks for each type of cannabis business.
The council adopted city staff recommendations for allowing no dispensary within 500 feet of a school, nursery, place of worship, daycare, residential care home, park or playground, or within 250 feet of a residential area.
Council member Jenn Carrillo expressed frustration that the work the planning commission and possibly the work of the cannabis task force was being ignored.
“I am troubled by a pattern that seems to be emerging that we end up asking these volunteer leaders in our boards and commissions to step up, to put in work only to end up dismissing their recommendations as though we are the only ones that know better,” Carrillo said.
Council member Donna Boelen said the planning commission should have left the on-site consumption issue to the council.
“Their task is to look at zoning,” Boelen said. “They went way out of bounds when they addressed policy. Policy is on-site consumption, it has nothing to do with zoning.”
Few if any Illinois cities have allowed on-site cannabis consumption.
Council member Julie Emig pointed to studies in Colorado and Washington which show drops in teen cannabis use since their states legalized the recreational use of cannabis, but she also cited studies showing an increase in cannabis-related traffic crashes in states where it’s been legalized.
“I am interested in learning more about recent technologies that are being developed to assess driver impairment,” Emig said. “Furthermore, the legalization of cannabis is a paradigm shift for your community.”
“I believe that on-site use will happen in time, just not today.”
Council member Scott Black vowed the council will revisit the issue by next summer once the city begins to see the impact the new cannabis law will have.
“We are coming back to this issue, seriously, with facts and data in the summertime,” Black said. “This conversation does not end today."
Black said the city will examine how other cities in the state are handling the cannabis laws and reviewing case law to adopt best practices for the city.
Keeping the possibility for cannabis cafes in the future provided no solace for Carrillo, who slammed the process. She said the council settled for what she calls the lowest common denominator that favors a “vocal and obstructive minority.”
“I think it embodies why people hate government and why they are so disengaged and resentful of politics,” she said. “I think most of us on this council could have been moved to support a stronger, more progressive legislation, but we have council members who were advocating for compromise instead and compromise for the sake of compromise.”
Boelen responded by saying the council has to be willing to set aside personal agendas and represent what the residents in their ward want.
“(It’s) being willing to see the other person’s point of view, to be able to sacrifice sometimes your personal stance,” Boelen said. “When you sit up here, you have to take your hat off, or you have to take your personal perspective, set it aside, put on the hat of an alderman and make a decision based on that.”
Cinnamon Porter, a leader with Black Lives Matter of Bloomington-Normal, said after the meeting many believe the ban against on-site consumption disproportionately impacts lower-income residents who rent and may not be allowed to have cannabis on the property.
She said the group will continue its lobbying efforts.
“I would say to the council members who did not vote in support of the community that we know who you are and we will see you election time,” Porter said.
The council found unanimous agreement in taxing cannabis sales in the city at 3%, the maximum the state allows. It also agreed on fines for violators. Unlawful or underage possession would come with a $100 fine or eight hours of community service. Having a cannabis sativa plant would lead to a $150 fine and buying cannabis for a minor would lead to a $300 fine.
The city could get up to two licenses in the first round of recreational cannabis dispensaries. Two is the maximum number of licenses the state could issue in the McLean and DeWitt county area.
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