Aurora officials have moved a step closer to deciding whether recreational marijuana can be sold in the city.
After hearing from residents for and against allowing the shops, the Aurora planning commission voted 7-3 on Wednesday night to recommend approval of a text amendment modifying certain portions of the city’s zoning ordinance. The revisions, which are needed for the city to participate in the sale of recreational cannabis, will next be reviewed by the city council.
City officials are considering whether to allow businesses to sell recreational marijuana under Illinois' Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which will make recreational use and possession by adults legal across the state beginning Jan. 1.
Aurora already has zoning regulations in place for medical cannabis businesses. If the city allows recreational sales, the existing regulations would be expanded to cover recreational cannabis businesses.
The city is proposing additional restrictions on the recreational dispensaries beyond what the state law requires. For example, they would need to be located next to an arterial street.
„There’s limited arterial streets in the city,” said Ed Sieben, Aurora’s zoning and planning director.
Another proposed restriction is that the facilities be located farther than 500 feet away from a school.
Before voting on the text amendment, the planning commission spent nearly three hours listening to dozens of residents speak for — and against — the sale of recreational marijuana. More than 130 people filled the council chambers at city hall at the start of the public hearing.
Resident Eli Hodapp said Aurora is in „a unique situation” to benefit from other municipalities prohibiting the sale of recreational marijuana.
„The genie is out of the bottle,” Hodapp said. „Recreational marijuana will be fully legal on the first of the year, whether you like it or not.”
Meanwhile, he said, people already are buying and using marijuana in Aurora „and the city isn’t benefiting from it.”
„So why turn our backs on a new source of tax revenue?” Hodapp said.
But resident Robert MacGregor called marijuana a gateway drug and added that its legalization will create higher costs because of increased traffic accidents, crime and hospital visits.
„This is a time for leadership,” MacGregor said. „I hope that you will stand up and vote to opt out. This is a dangerous, dangerous drug.”
The proposed revisions to the zoning ordinance will be reviewed Oct. 9 by a city council committee. A final vote by the city council to allow or prohibit sales of recreational marijuana is expected on Oct. 22.
As part of the state law, towns that permit recreational marijuana sales are allowed to place local sales taxes of up to 3% on those sales.
If the sale of recreational cannabis is allowed in Aurora, the city is planning to impose a 2% cannabis retail tax. It’s estimated the city could collect $200,000 to $600,000 a year in additional revenue from the tax, officials said.