Sandwich continues talks about retail marijuana

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SANDWICH – Gary Larson said he is a third-generation Sandwich resident and, as a result, has a vested interest in the city and wants to see it prosper. After a recent quick drive through the city, he said, he couldn’t help but notice four empty storefronts in Indian Springs and eight near Route 34.

Larson, who lives in Ward 1, said he also has been using cannabis for two years and they helped him get off of narcotics, including OxyContin and Norco – the true gateway drugs, he said. He said having access to cannabis has helped him turn his life around.

“I’ve been to the dispensaries in Ottawa and Aurora,” Larson said. “They’re not a bunch of junkies hanging around there with needles hanging out of their arms. They’re regular people like me.”

All eight members of the Sandwich City Council heard comments from several residents who attended the Monday, Oct. 21, Committee of the Whole meeting regarding the possible sales of adult use retail cannabis. That comes after residents offered comments and spoke with aldermen about whether the city should allow adult-use recreational marijuana sales within city limits during the city's Oct. 7 Committee of the Whole meeting.

Larson’s comments came after one resident spoke in opposition to the city allowing the sales, saying he doesn’t see the sales being bad for the city. He said he would be in favor of the city allowing adult use retail cannabis sales, there have been no reported cases of people overdosing on marijuana, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s normalized in society like alcohol and tobacco.

“People are going to sit around and smoke it,” Larson said. “It’s legal. You can’t stop the train.”

Ward 2 Alderman Kevin Kelleher said he and his wife were out of town the last time the matter was discussed in City Council chambers. He said he really doesn’t care if people smoke marijuana or not, since that’s much in the same vein for him as whether anyone drinks alcohol or smokes tobacco, and the state law is legalizing the use of the drug regardless.

Something else to consider, Kelleher said, is that the city will be losing some of its sales tax revenue after Gjovik Ford moves from Sandwich to Plano.

Kelleher said he’s not sure how the city will make up that lost revenue, but a good start is to bring in as many businesses as the city can. He said those types of businesses wouldn’t be near schools, per eventual city zoning and state regulations.

“I just think it would be foolish for us not to allow a revenue stream like that to come in when we’re going to be losing revenue in the next year,” Kelleher said. “If you drive down Route 34 right now, you can see that they’re moving earth in Plano. So by this time next year, we probably won’t be getting too much more money from there and we need that money – our town operates on that.”

Sandwich resident Elsie Morrissey, who lives in the 1st Ward, said she worked in the Sheridan Correctional Center for 20 years and taught inmates with drug problems, saying all of the inmates she interacted with in the prison started with using marijuana. If the council voted to allow the sales since effects of the drug use will be apparent in the city anyway, she said, she previously cautioned the council would be accepting that mindset.

Morrissey said she thinks allowing the sales would make marijuana products more accessible to children. She said she thinks the city should not be welcoming retail cannabis sales because the city couldn’t keep the Gjovik Ford dealership and would urge the city to find better businesses to help fill that void.

“This isn’t it,” Morrissey said. “This will not help our children learn. This will not help our town grow and be a prosperous and vibrant community, because ‘oh, we have marijuana here.’ This is nothing to brag about. I’d like to brag about a good store that you brought here.”

Ward 4 Alderman Fred Kreinbrink said he has had two phone calls from constituents since the previous meeting regarding the sale of adult use cannabis in the city. He said one caller was opposed to it because they think that’s not a revenue stream that they need to have, while another caller – who was in favor of allowing the sales – likened bars or gambling establishments operating just fine with little impact, despite some people opposing it.

“Those were the two views that I’ve heard since the last meeting,” Kreinbrink said.

Since Sandwich would not be able to vote on the matter via binding referendum, Kreinbrink said, aldermen also might want to consider putting an advisory referendum on the March primary ballot if they wanted to get a better feel for what residents are thinking.

City officials said the conversations at the city level will continue and urged residents to continue reaching out to their aldermen on the matter.