Ottawa, Streator councils will soon decide on recreational marijuana sales

Ottawa supportive, Streator undecided

Recreational marijuana will soon be legal to possess in Illinois, but county and municipal officials must decide whether to ban or allow marijuana businesses within their hometowns ― and some are already acting to do so.

Ottawa Mayor Dan Aussem expects the City Council will be supportive and follow with similar ordinances already considered in cities such as Marseilles, La Salle and Peru.

“I think, based on the conversations we’ve had with the council, everybody is OK with it but I don’t know what the rules and regulations would be,” he said.

Aussem noted the council has not officially been briefed on what would be required to enact an ordinance to collect sales tax from marijuana sales but he and some of the council will meet with officials from PharmaCannis to learn more.

PharmaCannis is the city’s medical marijuana facility that has expressed interest to The Times about offering recreational use marijuana as well.

The Streator City Council has yet to discuss legalizing the sale of marijuana within the city limits but the council seems tentative to do so.

Along with approving sales, cities can set limits on the number of establishments that may set up within the community. Cities in turn will see revenue from a municipal sales tax.

The Streator council’s feelings range from strict no’s to maybes, with Councilman Ed Brozak unsure of whether or not the extra tax money would be worth the tradeoff of vehicle safety.

“I don’t think the state has anything for sure that can tell you if someone is driving while impaired by marijuana,” Brozak said. “Until they have something that we can use to detect if they’re impaired, I have to be against it. I’ll look at it again if they figure one out. The extra tax money wouldn’t be worth it.”

Mayor Jimmie Lansford and fellow Councilman Brian Crouch agree with Brozak that recreational marijuana has no place being sold in Streator, but Councilman Joe Scarbeary said it’s not up to the city to take a moral stand on the issue.

“We all knew this was coming and the state gave us plenty of notice in passing it,” Scarbeary said. “It’s here and we as a council need to sit down and discuss it. I’m open to it and I would like more information on what Streator citizens think. It’ll be a revenue stream. Other cities are going to have it anyway so it’s not like we’re taking this great moral stance.”

Lansford’s concerns lie in the idea that marijuana can be a gateway drug, in line with the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s findings in tests using rats. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse also states that the majority of marijuana users, while susceptible to nicotine and alcohol addiction, do not graduate to harder drugs.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse said in a July 2019 article that whether or not somebody uses harder drugs is more closely related to their social environment than it is to their use of a particular drug.

“My feelings are that if it’s used for medicinal purposes only and that has been proven that it’s effective that way and approved there, I don’t have a problem with that,” Lansford said. “But just to legalize it, historically the information that I have been receiving and have read is that usually one form of drug use evolves usually into something stronger. Does that mean it will continue that direction? I don’t know and I don’t think anyone really knows.”

Crouch said he’s staunchly against recreational use but this scenario is too tough for him to have a personal opinion on because the city is struggling financially in the first place.

“The extra revenue is needed, so these tax dollars might be worth it,” Crouch said. “I have to see the numbers from other communities before I really make a decision. It might end up being worth it to get the tax dollars.”

Councilwoman Tara Bedei declined to comment until she could further speak to the rest of the council.

Applications for at least 75 new dispensaries will be due by Jan. 1, 2020, and are expected to be awarded by May 1, 2020.