The McLean County Board on Tuesday narrowly struck down proposals that would have enabled the county to opt-out of allowing marijuana sales in unincorporated areas of the county or could have allowed county residents to weigh in through an advisory referendum.
The board voted 10-8, mostly along party lines, to reject a proposal from Chuck Erickson, R-Bloomington, to ban cannabis sales in rural parts of the county when recreational marijuana becomes legal on Jan. 1.
Three Republicans, Josh Barnett and Jacob Beard and Susan Schafer, sided with the board’s seven Democrats in rejecting the opt-out request.
Beard said the new state law allowing recreational marijuana is legal and the county has a process in place to regulate it.
“I don’t celebrate the idea or look forward to the idea that I hope more and more people use pot, (or that) I hope in 20 years that we become a destination, the Amsterdam of the Midwest," he said.
The county has started to develop guidelines for marijuana businesses. The county’s Zoning Board of Appeals on Jan. 7 will consider recommendations from the county’s land use committee.
Board member Gerald Thompson, R-Colfax, said he’s worried about the potential for marijuana abuse and increased traffic crashes from impaired drivers. He said he’s opposed to it even though the cannabis industry could benefit him as a farmer and help his rural district financially.
“There will be people rest assured who will abuse it, unfortunate as it may be,” Thompson said. “There will be children that will suffer from it. That’s a problem and that’s where I really struggle with this.”
The vote count was the same when the board voted against putting separate advisory questions on the ballot in the March primary, asking voters if they would like to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses in unincorporated areas of the county.
“It would give us all an idea what the residents of McLean County feel about this particular issue,” said board member George Wendt, R-Bloomington. "I think it’s ridiculous the idea not allowing the citizens to have some kind of voice in this.”
Erickson requested the voters consider cannabis dispensaries in a separate ballot question from other types of business including growers, processors and infusers, in case some would support them simply for the sales tax revenue they would generate.
Board member Laurie Wollrab, D-Bloomington, questioned the board’s reluctance to handle the cannabis issue on its own, given the pro-business stance it has taken in helping prospective businesses such as Rivian and Brandt Industries.
“This body has no problem making decisions to spend millions of dollars in tax incentives for this purpose, yet now when brand new business opportunities are likely to present themselves, we are being asked to shy away from decision making,” Wollrab said.
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