PEKIN — Like many communities, the City Council is grappling with whether to allow marijuana sales in Pekin once it becomes legal for adult use on Jan. 1.
Council members discussed Monday that issue and also what regulations the city could impose.
“We are looking at everything and especially how important it is to have the input of the community on what direction they want to go with this," said Mayor Mark Luft.
Advantages to allowing adult-use cannabis facilities here that came out in Monday’s discussion included tax revenue and the ability to regulate cannabis.
“The safety of a dispensary is a lot better than the black market,” he said.
Concerns that came up Monday included a potential need for increased police activity, an increase in DUI incidents, and out-of-town visitors coming to Pekin specifically to buy pot. Luft said the input he has received appears to be mostly in favor of allowing recreational sales in the city.
“I would say about two-thirds of the input has been we should move forward with allowing a dispensary and generating the tax dollars we could use in a positive way for the community,” he added.
Luft is hoping that, whether or not the city chooses to allow adult-use dispensaries, some sort of policy will be in place by early December.
“(We will have to) create some zoning restrictions around it, much like with alcohol,” said City Manager Mark Rothert. “(We have to decide if) we want to allow local smoke shops or cannabis lounges. We also have to figure out how much we want to tax it at the local level. Municipalities can opt out, so we have to essentially say whether we want to have this in our community.”
Community input is vital in helping the council reach a decision on adult-use cannabis, Luft said, as there is no time to draft a referendum for the next election.
"It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a referendum here, but I’d say it would take a good four to six months to put something like that together,” he said. “Our next opportunity would come after Jan. 1."
The next opportunity to put a referendum on a ballot would be for the March 2020 primary election, Luft added. That puts Pekin past the Jan. 1 deadline to apply for one of the 75 dispensaries allowed in Illinois in 2020.
“That’s why it’s really important for us to keep reiterating to the community how (essential) their input is, through emails to the council or to Mr. Rothert,” said Luft.
Luft also urged Pekinites to bring their questions or concerns to committee and council meetings where recreational pot will be discussed. He added the city would possibly host a public forum to give residents an opportunity to discuses the issue.
“Our goal is to not go into Jan. 1 still trying to figure it out,” he said. “We want to be proactive and put in place what we need to whichever direction we’re going. We want to gather input, make sure the Council members are aware of everything out there, put all that together and come up with a conclusion.”