Puff, Puff… Pass?

by Kyle Herschelman

On Jan. 1, 2020, the State of Illinois made the sale of recreational marijuana legal to those 21 and over. Despite COVID-19 and problems with the licensing process, in the first ten months of the year, consumers have spent more than $507 million at the 73 adult use cannabis dispensaries licensed in the state.

Now, just over a year after it became legal, the City of Litchfield will discuss whether to allow retail adult use cannabis in its community for the third time.

The Litchfield City Council meeting, which will be held virtually via Zoom, will be held on Thursday, Jan. 7, will discuss three ordinances that would pave the way for recreational marijuana sales: an ordinance amending Chapter 150 of the Litchfield Zoning Ordinance pertaining to adult use cannabis in the City of Litchfield, IL; an ordinance establishing a retail cannabis sales license and an ordinance amending Section 39 of the Municipal Code of the City of Litchfield, Montgomery County by the addition of this ordinance imposing a Municipal Cannabis Occupation Tax of three percent.

The three ordinances were originally discussed in a special meeting on April 16, also held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After that meeting, the council voted 5-3 to pass the first of the three ordinances, with council members David Hollo, Woody Street and Marilyn Sisson voting against the measure and Kassidy Paine, Tim Wright, Mark Brown, Dwayne Gerl and Ray Kellenberger voting for it.

Momentarily, it was believed that the split vote passed, before Alderman Hollo pointed out that a city ordinance stated that a two-thirds majority was needed.

The super-majority is required for amendments where 20 percent of the adjacent property owners objected to the amendment. Hollo said that due to the city receiving letters from property owners Richard Dodson and Peter Drummond, six votes were needed instead of five.

The three items were brought before the council once more on July 2 and once again failed to get the necessary six votes. This time the initial measure tied 4-4, with Hollo, Sisson, Street and Brown voting no and Kellenberger, Wright, Paine and Gerl voting yes.

During their August meeting, the council would revisit the matter once more, deciding to put a resolution on the ballot for the November election, something Alderman Street said that he had been in favor of since the beginning of the discussion on retail cannabis, but was not able to get it on the agenda.

City Attorney Kit Hantla did point out that the measure still had to come back to the council and pass by a 6-2 super majority, regardless of the result of the referendum.

The vote to put the measure on the ballot passed by a 7-1 margin, with Alderman Hollo voting no. The exact wording on the ballot would be “Should the City of Litchfield, Montgomery County, Illinois allow the sale of cannabis and taxation for recreational use within the Corporate City limits of the City of Litchfield, Montgomery County, Illinois?”

Of the 3,137 votes cast, 2,053 said yes, 65.44 percent, and 1,084 said no, 34.56 percent. While under different circumstances, Hillsboro asked a similar question during the March 2020 primary election and the question passed by a narrower margin, 370 to 368.

In all ten precincts in which it was asked, the question passed by 15 percentage points or more. Its biggest margin of victory was in the North Litchfield 5 and South Litchfield 1 precincts, where voters said yes at a clip of more than 70 percent.

If the motions on Jan. 7 pass this time, the license will most likely go to the Greenhouse, the medical marijuana dispensary already operating in Litchfield. Companies already dispensing medical marijuana have early approval options by the state in regards to licensing for adult use.

The Greenhouse’s location at 719 West Union Avenue was one of the big sticking points for Drummond, who owns the law office next door and expressed concern over traffic patterns on Union Avenue and overflow parking in his parking lot. Drummond had suggested an alternate site for the facility, which would have been a significant expense for the Greenhouse’s owners.

If successful, the Litchfield location will be the Greenhouse’s first downstate recreational cannabis retail outlet. The company currently owns recreational sales facilities in Skokie, Northbrook and Melrose Park, plus an outlet in Morris, which serves medical and recreational customers. They also own medical marijuana dispensaries in Deerfield and Mokena.

Currently, the closest retail dispensaries to Montgomery County are under the newly rebranded Ascend brand, with locations in Collinsville, two locations in Springfield and a future location in Fairview Heights. All four offer, or will offer, medical and adult use cannabis for sale.

While the answer to whether the third time is the charm for retail cannabis in Litchfield will come on Jan. 7, the question to why has it come up so often may have been answered two weeks before the initial special meeting on April 16.

When discussing the budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, it called for $125,000 from new tax revenue from recreational cannabis sales. If the motions fail and that tax revenue, even a portion of it, continues to be absent, the council will have to make adjustments to their budget to make up for that shortfall, a tough task in a year already hard hit by COVID-19.

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