Should the village prepare for a potential medical marijuana dispensary in Forest Park? This was the question tossed out by Mayor Anthony Calderone at the May 27 village council meeting.
“Do we think, if the opportunity presented itself that we want to be home to a medical marijuana dispensary station?” the mayor asked his colleagues on the council Tuesday.
The mayor said if Forest Park wanted to be in the running for a dispensary business, there were steps that would have to be taken, including holding public hearings, resolving zoning issues and amending village codes.
The mayor told the council he was approached by a Forest Park business owner “in a completely different type of business” who is taking steps to apply for a permit from the state of Illinois to operate a dispensary.
Commissioner Mark Hosty said he’d be interested in tax projections for the village from a dispensary.
Commissioner Rory Hoskins wondered if the issue could be put onto the November ballot as a referendum.
“Ever since the state legalized it, people have been talking about the issue,” Hoskins said. “I know a lot of people in town who are sympathetic to medical needs for marijuana and I know a lot of people who instantly react ‘no.'”
But Calderone said November might be too long to wait if other towns were already making provisions for dispensaries.
The new law has determined that only a single dispensary can be located in the entire area covered by Proviso, Leyden and Norwood Townships.
“I could see if we did set the stage to allow it, we could use that to our advantage,” said Commissioner Tom Mannix.
The mayor said the village would be responsible to hold public hearings, so residents could find out exactly how medical marijuana could be used.
It’s not the case that anyone can go in and buy marijuana, Calderone said.
“You need a note from the doctors.”
Commissioner Chris Harris asked if the village would be “actively lobbying” for a dispensary or just “saying we’re open for business?”
“Both,” Calderone said.
Harris likened the village’s action to the zoning decision that created the “Sexually Oriented Business Overlay District” near Industrial Drive, after a strip club owner sued the village for trying to block the opening of a club in the village in 2007.
“We should think about if it’s an OK use, do we care where it’s located?” Calderone asked.
The House Bill 1 Medical Cannabis pilot program passed in 2013. Licenses to open dispensaries and growing facilities will be awarded by the state of Illinois.
Forest Park’s lobbyist Matt O’Shea worked on the bill, which he calls the “strictest” of state laws among those states permitting medical marijuana. The law calls for 24-hour video surveillance of dispensaries and has strict location parameters for where they can go.
The program will sunset in four years, O’Shea said, but once the dispensaries catch on, the trend may be to follow Colorado and Washington which have legalized recreational marijuana.
Until then, O’Shea said laws require a growing facility to be 2,500 feet from any residential area. This makes it an unlikely fit for Forest Park, which is small and densely populated.
A dispensary, however, requires only 1,000 feet distance from residential zones, so there might be a possibility to locate one in Forest Park’s industrial zone.
Commissioner Tom Mannix said in an interview after the meeting that he hoped O’Shea might be available to give an overview of the process to the village council.
“I think we need more information before we can make a decision,” Mannix said.