By Maria Maxham
Forest Park village government held a special village council meeting Friday Oct. 18 to discuss recreational marijuana sales in the village. The meeting drew about two dozen residents and was attended by village administrators, including Director of Public Health and Safety Steve Glinke, Mayor Rory Hoskins and commissioners Jessica Voogd, Ryan Nero and Joe Byrnes.
This was the second meeting held by the village to gauge public opinion on allowing sales and/or production of recreational marijuana in the village. At the first meeting on Sept. 12, little opposition from residents was expressed.
At the Oct. 18 meeting, attendees seemed curious and were interested in answers to practical questions. Little to no dissent was evident, which opens the door for Hoskins and commissioners to vote to amend the current zoning code to add recreational marijuana dispensaries and production facilities as conditional uses, most likely at a December village council meeting.
Conditional use is different from permitted use, in that an investor planning to open a business would need to be approved by both the zoning board of appeals and by the village council in two separate public meetings.
Investor Michael Cardozo, who owns medical marijuana dispensaries in Maryland, was the main speaker at the meeting and fielded most of the questions during the meeting. Also present at the first meeting, Cardozo is one of the recreational cannabis investors who wants to open a business in Forest Park. Hoskins said the village has been approached by several other potential investors as well.
Cardozo said that although he is talking to a few other nearby towns as possible places to open a business, his preference is Forest Park.
"Without question, Forest Park is where we want to be," said Cardozo. He cited the cooperation of the municipality and the location as two of the biggest reasons he is pursuing Forest Park.
"Our plan is to be a good neighbor if we open a business in town," he said. When asked, he said this means having a continual dialogue with village administration and residents; to be transparent about business operations; to engage in safe practices and continually set and meet high standards; to hold educational forums for residents and customers; and to immediately work with the town administrators to address any concerns.
Cardozo's goal is to open both a dispensary, potentially on Madison Street or Roosevelt Road, as well as a production facility, which includes cultivation and processing and would be "tucked away," possibly in the industrial park off of Desplaines Avenue.
Cardozo emphasized that the production plants are protected by high levels of security, including structural safeties and deterrents built into the building itself. They are secure and discrete, so much so that "from the outside you wouldn't even know that's what it is," he said. Odor control would help ensure the facility wouldn't be problematic to neighbors in terms of smell or alert people to the fact that it's a marijuana processing plant.
In terms of potentially hazardous chemical waste or dangerous processes, Cardozo said his production is "solventless." Instead of chemicals, CO2 is used to condense the plant through pressure and heat in a closed loop system. The next step, winterization, uses ethanol, which is flammable. But the processing Cardozo does require small amounts of ethanol, and he said it is stored safely.
He plans to hire locally as much as possible, although Illinois state law, arguably the most progressive in the nation in terms of social equity, requires that all new recreational marijuana facilities either be 51 percent minority owned or employ at least 51 percent of their staff from economically disadvantaged areas. At least 50 to 60 new jobs would be created immediately if he opens a production facility, which will increase to 100 within a year, including packagers, drivers and horticulturalists.
Nero and Cardozo cited studies that show in areas where marijuana has been legalized crime has not gone up, and local police are not additionally stressed by the changes in law. In fact, some law enforcement departments feel less of a burden, as officers are not saddled with arresting people for minor marijuana offenses.
"We want people to be able to achieve the experience they're looking for," said Cardozo. As with medical marijuana, he said, a wide variety of potencies will be sold recreationally. He added that he likes his employees who are involved in the retail end of things to have tried the products.
"That's important," said Nero. "You don't buy steak from a vegetarian."
Consumers must be at least 21 years old, and their purchases will be tracked and limited to 30 grams per month, just over an ounce of weed. Cardozo talked about prices, saying they will be competitive with black market prices. Industry researchers stay on top of these prices, in what is undoubtedly a fascinating job, and recreational sellers make sure they don't price too high, even though recreational marijuana will be heftily taxed, including a 3 percent tax on retail sales that will go back to Forest Park if sales are allowed in town.
All marijuana sold in Illinois will also be produced in Illinois, since federal law prohibits the transportation of cannabis over state lines. That, of course, raises the question of how the seeds even get to the state in the first place.
"It's the Immaculate Conception of the marijuana industry," laughed Cardozo.