By Bob Uphues
Brookfield trustees expect to formally vote, Sept. 23, on whether to opt out of recreational cannabis sales or ship the matter to the Planning and Zoning Commission to work up regulations for allowing such businesses within the village.
The decision came after a roughly two-hour discussion that featured public input from more than a dozen people, who collectively came down slightly in favor of allowing a cannabis dispensary to open in Brookfield.
While members of the village board, for the second straight meeting, avoided overt statements of either support or opposition to allowing the sale of recreational cannabis, some did make clear that any decision would not be based on moral questions.
"I don't think being a family-friendly community and having a business like this are two different things," said Trustee Katie Kaluzny, who later clarified that she felt Brookfield being family friendly and having a cannabis dispensary business were not at odds with each other. She made the statement in response to some public input that the village would be harming children by allowing a dispensary to open in the future.
Trustee Michael Garvey, who has voiced skepticism of a dispensary's financial benefits, also dismissed suggestions that such a business would harm children.
"I'm not into the morality of this issue, whether it's a good thing or bad thing," said Garvey, referencing other things, like video gambling, which was legalized by the state and later allowed in Brookfield. "This is absolutely not acceptable to say voting for this is encouraging youth to use cannabis. That comment really disturbed me."
A new law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this year allows the sales of recreation cannabis throughout the state of Illinois as of Jan. 1, 2020. The state has allowed the sale of cannabis for medical purposes since 2014.
There are no medical dispensaries near Brookfield — the closest is in Oak Park — and there is no business which has publicly indicated a desire to locate within the village. While Brookfield may end up never being home to a cannabis dispensary, such a business could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in new tax revenue should one land here.
In light of that potential revenue, the village board on Sept. 23 will also vote on whether to impose a 3 percent local tax on the sale of recreational cannabis in Brookfield. The Illinois Department of Revenue has asked municipalities to pass a resolution by the end of September signaling a desire to impose such a tax as the agency works to implement a way to collect that tax in the future.
In addition to the 14 members of the public who ventured an opinion on the subject, village staff also revealed the results of an online survey conducted last week, which received about 2,100 responses.
Although officials admitted that the survey was not flawless, it indicated overwhelming support for allowing a dispensary to open in Brookfield, by a margin of 73 to 27 percent.
The Brookfield Chamber of Commerce's board of directors also weighed in on the subject, with President Steven Langworthy stating that the chamber board voted almost unanimously to support the sale of recreational cannabis.
"It is the opinion of our board of directors that Brookfield should allow for a cannabis dispensary," Langworthy said in a statement that was read aloud by Trustee Brian Conroy, who is the village board's liaison to the organization. "We see this as a rare opportunity to both increase tax revenue for the village and to bolster potential tourism to our town."
Six members of the public spoke in opposition to allowing cannabis sales in Brookfield, with some calling the drug addictive and a money grab by the cannabis industry.
Allowing cannabis sales, some said, would be the village's explicit endorsement of its use, said Cynthia Frymark, president of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Lyons Township.
"You will be communicating to all the teens that you endorse getting high as a form of recreation," Frymark said. "This debate has been and will always be about addiction profiteers wanting to make money at the expense of the general public."
But proponents pointed out that cannabis is already being sold in an unregulated fashion to adults and children and that Brookfield opting out was not going to change that reality.
Brookfield resident Jon Platt, a retired license social worker who spent more than a decade working at Stroger Hospital in Chicago, said claims of cannabis addiction and the drug's use resulting in mental illness were misleading.
"Hopefully we stop any kind of suggestion that this is going to cause a major health issue or profound damage," Platt said. "As somebody who spent over 10 years working in Cook County Hospital, I saw any number of people coming in with alcohol toxicity [and] opioid toxicity. I don't know of any cases of anyone with marijuana toxicity."