The zoning amendment that will go before the Normal Town Council for consideration Nov. 18 would allow cannabis-related businesses to locate in the town — with restrictions.
The town planning commission crafted the recommended amendment after two hours of discussion and a series of votes at Thursday night’s meeting.
Any of the six classifications of cannabis-related businesses (craft-growing, cultivation, dispensing/sales, infusion, processing and transportation) that could locate within the town would need to obtain a special use permit first.
Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day explained that means there’d be a public hearing process, planning commission recommendation and council vote on the applications of every cannabis-related business.
Each type of business would only be allowed to locate in certain zoning districts. No cannabis-related business would be allowed within 200 feet of single-family zoning districts, or within 100 feet of daycares, churches and schools.
Town Planner Mercy Davison noted those are smaller than the setbacks currently favored by Bloomington’s planning commission: 250 feet for single-family zoning and 500 feet from daycares, churches and schools.
Within the town’s recommended restrictions, no cannabis-related business would be permitted within Uptown Normal. Commissioners also voted to keep businesses from locating near mobile home parks, or on Main Street between Gregory and Division Streets, in an attempt to limit access to cannabis for students at Illinois State University.
“You can buy the stuff when you’re 21, but the research says it has a stronger impact on younger people up to their mid-20s, whose brains are still developing,” said commissioner Bob Broad, who suggested the change.
The recommended amendment also prohibits onsite cannabis consumption at any cannabis-related business.
Day said if the council did vote to allow cannabis-related businesses, that doesn’t mean the town would see a flood of cannabis.
“There’s going to be very limited licenses permitted by the state, at least in the first couple years of this going forward,” he said.
In the first year following legalization of recreational cannabis, state statutes would allow a total of three dispensaries in the combined area of McLean and DeWitt counties, and 40 of each type of cannabis-related business across the state.
“So it’s not going to be a bunch of these opening up immediately,” Day said.
Ten speakers took a total of one hour sharing their thoughts on the amendment and cannabis in general with the planning commission.
Andrew Cortes is the Illinois operations manager for The Green Solution, which has a medical cannabis dispensary at 501 Northtown Rd. in Normal.
Cortes said the business plans to apply for a dual medical/recreational dispensary license after Jan. 1. Cortes worried the setbacks included in the zoning amendment would require the business to relocate because it’s located within 100 feet of a church.
Cortes said he hasn’t had any issues with the church or any other nearby businesses.
“Our view is that we can help be an economic driver for Normal,” he said, adding that if granted the dual license, the business plans to add at least 20 employees to its current staff of 12.
Under the recommendations approved by the end of the meeting, The Green Solution would be allowed to apply for a special use permit as a medical/recreational dispensary.
Tiffany Jackson works with agencies serving U.S. veterans and is herself an Illinois Army National Guard retired staff sergeant. Jackson shared how medical cannabis proved helpful in treating her seizures and PTSD.
“I urge you sincerely to make room in the community for this business opportunity by not placing very harsh restrictions on the location, while still keeping in mind safety for all,” she said.
Former council member Jeff Fritzen again voiced concerns that safety is the very reason the town should prohibit cannabis-related business — or at least heavily restrict them.
He noted the group BN Parents received a renewal of its $125,000 Drug-Free Communities Support Program grant through the Office of National Drug Control Policy this month.
“They’ve been working to diminish the use of drugs, particularly marijuana, through educational and programming efforts,” he said. “So what statement do we as a community make to our junior and senior high school students, their parents and those who diligently have been working against drug use, if we welcome the recreational marijuana industry into our community?”
Town Planner Mercy Davison noted the recommendation is just a starting point; the council could still amend or outright reject the proposal.
“Nothing is set in stone,” she said.
The three-hour meeting Thursday night certainly points to the complexity of the issue.
“This is certainly an important issue, it’s certainly something new, and the code itself is just complicated, so there really was no way to talk about this any more quickly,” she said.