Bloomington’s Planning Commission is looking to make the city the first in Illinois to allow marijuana sold at dispensaries to be consumed on site, a so-called cannabis cafe.
That was one of several recommendations the panel made following a public hearing Wednesday on the city’s proposed cannabis zoning ordinance, while a company that’s buying the medical marijuana dispensary in Normal plans to seek a state license for a dispensary in Bloomington.
The city council will review changes to the draft ordinance in December, ahead of the state law taking effect Jan. 1 legalizing recreational use of marijuana.
Planning commission member Justin Boyd said allowing on-site consumption might be the only option for some residents, since property owners will have the option to ban cannabis use on their premises.
“I think the social justice issue is a big one that we should consider,” Boyd said. “If it’s legal to consume but you can’t consume it in public or in your home or any other location, then it’s not really legal to a certain population.”
Commissioner David Stanczak suggested the city avoid making a “once-and-for-all” decision that could be tough to undo later if problems arise. He said he thinks some landlords will decide on their own to allow marijuana use.
“We have apartment complexes that have pet-friendly buildings, I see no reason why they couldn’t have pot-friendly buildings just as easily,” Stanczak quipped.
The amendment to allow on-site consumption passed in a 7-2 vote.
The commission voted 6-3 to recommend proposed setbacks to largely mirror Normal’s proposed ordinance. The panel wants to shorten the distance from residential areas to 200 feet and the distance from schools, daycares, places of worship, residential care homes, parks and playgrounds to 100 feet.
“This is a business like any other that you have to be 21 to enter,” Boyd said. “You buy packaged goods and you take them home. That is why I don’t have an issue reducing those setbacks.”
City staff had proposed no licenses within 250 feet and 500 feet, respectively. Commission chair Megan Headean said public comments convinced her to prefer the longer setbacks.
“I understand if we did have this location it probably would be downtown and this is very restrictive, but I support the larger setbacks and mostly that’s due to the comments we heard tonight. I think that’s kind of balancing what the community is asking for and is comfortable at this time.”
The planning commission agreed to those same distances which city staff had proposed for other types of cannabis licenses, including cultivation centers, craft growers, transporters and infusers. The panel moved the residential setback for processing centers to 500 feet.
Several residents raised concerns about the odor coming from cannabis production.
Wayne Montney urged the commission to move the setbacks even farther.
“You should go home tonight and figure out where 250 feet is from your front door and decide do you really want a facility that’s that close. I think you are going to find that 250 feet isn’t very much."
Much of the public comment focused on whether the city should even opt in to allowing cannabis sales.
Aaron LeNeve referred to cannabis bans as a "war against a plant" that that has criminalized too many.
“Listen to the people who are telling you that we want this business and their recommendations, because it’s rooted in fact,” LeNeve said. “It’s time to end this stupid war.”
Others expressed concern the city was moving too quickly to cultivate a marijuana industry they see as harmful.
Fr. David Halt of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Bloomington said the city appears to be in a rush to cash in on cannabis, but it might not provide the windfall the city is hoping to get.
“We know big business makes money, but does the city really gain true financial incentive, financial benefits, because we have not yet talked about the increased costs associated with these businesses,” Halt said.
Business Eyes Bloomington
If Bloomington decides to welcome marijuana sales, at least one business is looking to open a dispensary in the city. Nathan Wang with Jushi, a Denver-based cannabis company, said it has an agreement to buy The Green Solution, a medical marijuana dispensary in Normal. The deal is pending approval from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
Wang said the company is seeking state approval to allow recreational marijuana sales at the site in Normal and will exercise the option to open a second dispensary somewhere in McLean or DeWitt counties.
Wang said the company has several locations it’s considering, including some downtown. He said locating in Bloomington makes the most sense.
“It’s the same demographic, that helps us reach a broader audience and a broader population within the same region,” Wang said. “We love this region. That store in Normal has been very successful.”
Wang, Jushi’s manager for new markets, said the company would welcome the opportunity to open Illinois’ first cannabis cafe.
“I think it’s an opportunity where we are extremely excited. I think it presents a lot of challenges certainly, both from a public community perspective as well as from a business perspective. There’s certainly challenges that come with having lots of consumption of cannabis.”
The city’s planning commission agreed to several other changes to the city’s cannabis zoning ordinance. The city would allow an applicant to seek a permit to operate as both a dispensary and an infuser, such as a shop that makes pot brownies or other marijuana edibles, but only in downtown districts zoned D-1 and D-2.
Applicants would have to seek a special use permit for each type of business. Each request would have to be approved by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
If the city council approves the zoning changes, it will also have to decide whether it will tax sales. Municipalities will be able to tax cannabis sales up to 3%.
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in Central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.