Forest Park’s Planning & Zoning Commission voted unanimously to recommend allowing cannabis dispensaries to open “by right” in downtown Forest Park instead of making the applicants go through a zoning hearing and seek village council approval on a case-by-case basis.

Steve Glinke, the village’s director of building, planning and zoning, framed it is a way to attract businesses that bring in higher sales tax revenue than any other sales tax producing business in the village. When recreational cannabis use was legalized at the start of 2020, he said, the village had concerns about adverse social impacts, but, looking at Oak Park and other neighboring villages showed that those fears were overblown. 

Glinke said that given the existing limitations on how close dispensaries can be to each other, the fact that the state can only have up to 500 cannabis licenses at any time and that dispensaries don’t like oversaturating the market, he doesn’t expect Madison Street to get many takers. He told the Review that he expects the council to vote on changing the regulations in June.

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Under the current zoning code, cannabis dispensaries are allowed by right in industrial areas, but they are a conditional use in all commercial districts. The proposed zoning amendment wouldn’t affect the commercial areas outside the Downtown Business District, which encompasses the Madison Street corridor. The Planning & Zoning Commission inherited the Zoning Board of Appeals’ responsibility for reviewing any proposed zoning code changes, but the village council still has the final say over zoning code changes.

Karuna Ventures cannabis cultivation and dispensary company has been looking to set up a cannabis cultivation and dispensary facility at 1401 Circle Ave., which is zoned for industrial use. While the company got the state craft grower and infuser licenses, it doesn’t have a dispensary license, according to the state licensing portal. 

During the Sept. 12, 2019 hearing on how Forest Park would handle the impending recreational cannabis legalization, residents raised concerns about public health issues, education and outreach, safety surrounding the facility itself and whether it would be a strain on the local police department.

Glinke told the Planning & Zoning Commission that the hearings “offered a lot of hyperbole, the fear of the unknown.” Given the unprecedented nature of the legalization, it made sense for Forest Park to be cautious, he said. Since then, the village had a chance to look at dispensaries in Oak Park, Melrose Park, Elmwood Park and Chicago, and consult with the neighboring police departments. The safety concerns, Glinke said, simply didn’t pan out.

He also pointed out that, as a non-home rule municipality, Forest Park’s sales tax revenue was limited. 

“Marijuana generates a 5% sales tax, which is over what Forest Park is allowed to charge in the absence of the home rule authority,” Glinke said. “It’s a cash cow, and I think the boogieman is gone.”

Under the state law, dispensaries must be at least 1,500 feet apart. While equity applicants – applicants who could show they were negatively impacted by anti-cannabis laws – could apply to have that cap lifted, Glinke said that he doesn’t foresee an influx of dispensaries.

“Frankly, they want to go where there’s no competition,” he said. “This is not McDonald’s, this is not Walgreens.”

Glinke also said that a dispensary would want a decent amount of parking. 

“If [the customers] don’t have place to park, they don’t want to open there,” he said. “It’s kind of simple. [That’s] one of biggest concerns that was expressed by the dispensaries.”