By Maria Maxham
"I am open to the idea of allowing a recreational marijuana dispensary in our town," said Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins at a town hall on Sept. 12. "If we carefully zone it, recreational marijuana could have a positive economic impact on Forest Park."
The possibility of allowing recreational cannabis to be sold, and perhaps cultivated, in Forest Park was the topic of the meeting called by Hoskins, who said he wanted "to gauge public sentiment about the issue." About two dozen residents showed up to learn what it would mean to Forest Park to allow marijuana sales, to ask questions, and to voice concerns.
Michael Cardozo, CEO of Karuna Ventures, a company interested in opening a recreational marijuana cultivation center and dispensary in Forest Park, took part in the meeting. He talked about how he hopes to partner with Forest Park if the village decides to zone for cannabis sales.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian and Commissioner Jessica Voogd were in attendance. Commissioners Joe Byrnes, Ryan Nero and Daniel Novak did not attend.
Residents' questions and concerns about allowing recreational marijuana to be sold in town revolved around public health issues, education and outreach, safety surrounding the facility itself and whether it would be a strain on the local police department.
"I'm not opposed to legalization," said resident Anna Felicity Friedman. "But as someone with severe lung disease, any smoke causes me to have an asthma attack."
Smoking marijuana, although legal in Illinois for adults starting on Jan. 1, 2020, will not be allowed in public. Still, Friedman worries that regulations on smoking marijuana in public won't be enforced.
"Don't the police have enough to do without [marijuana] coming to the village?" asked Janet Fink, a lifelong resident, echoing Friedman's sentiments about overtaxing the police force.
"Studies are showing that in areas where recreational marijuana is legal, law enforcement's efforts are actually lowered," said Cardozo.
Another resident pointed out that marijuana will be legal in Illinois beginning Jan. 1 whether Forest Park allows it to be sold within the village, so police will need to respond to the issue anyway.
"It will still be legal in surrounding areas, and we'll still need education and outreach, and the police will still need to handle the issue. If people can go across Harlem to Oak Park, buy it, and bring it here anyway, why not sell it and have a revenue stream for the village?" she asked.
"Our town needs revenue," said another resident in support of allowing the sale of recreational cannabis in town.
In fact, Hoskins' interest in Forest Park zoning for recreational marijuana use centered on economics.
"Allowing a cultivation center in Forest Park is interesting to me because it creates jobs," said Hoskins, talking about the economic impact such a business could have on the town. Cardozo agreed.
Industrial Drive has been mentioned as a possible location for both cultivation and sales.
"A cultivation center like we're hoping to bring to Forest Park would create 60 jobs," said Cardozo. "And even our lowest paid employees would receive 30 percent above minimum wage." He also talked about how Illinois state law mandates that a certain percentage of employees be from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Commissioner Jessica Voogd also talked about the social justice implications of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois.
"Illinois did a good job incorporating social equity into this policy," said Voogd. This includes the expungement of cannabis records for hundreds of thousands of people and the Recovery, Reinvest, Renew program, which will provide resources to communities disproportionately affected by violence, poverty, and inconsistent enforcement of cannabis-related laws.
Cardozo says he wants Karuna Ventures, named after the Buddhist term "to spread compassion," to be a partner in town. Currently, he runs medical dispensaries in Maryland. He said 60 percent of marijuana products are non-smokables. They include tinctures, patches, edibles and topical creams. He hopes to continue to expand this part of his business. He also addressed recent news of the dangers of vaping by saying that none of the products his companies produce have additives, including those possibly responsible for recent illness or death related to vaping.
"Education is key when it comes to this topic," said Cardozo. If allowed to open a business in Forest Park, he would work directly with law enforcement and with the public, since this issue, he said, is new for everyone.
"We have extremely tight regulations when it comes to security," he added. Facilities are "sealed off completely and are secure by design." He talked about the environmental controls integral to the cultivation and processing of cannabis. In addition, the facility would have an "ozone scrubber" to ensure there would be no smell outside the building.
"If Forest Park proceeds with recreational marijuana, these facilities would be zoned as conditional use," said Tim Gillian, village administrator. Any business wanting to open a recreational marijuana facility or dispensary in town would need to go before the village council and the zoning board. "We would never allow a facility to be too close to a school, for example," he stated.
Cardozo said he is attracted to Forest Park because of its good real estate market, low crime, location and municipal support. "Forest Park is by far our first choice," he said.
When asked about next steps for the village, Hoskins said he will continue to listen to what residents have to say.
"If the room was packed tonight with people saying 'no,' this issue would probably go to referendum," said Hoskins. "But unless there's a sudden groundswell of opposition, we'll move forward with zoning."