Cannabis sales get green light in Riverside

Majority declines delay and referendum to usher in new use on Harlem Ave.

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By Bob Uphues


Brushing aside calls for a village-wide referendum next spring, extending buffer zones and opting out altogether, Riverside village trustees voted 4 to 2 to adopt an ordinance that would allow the sale of recreation cannabis to those 21 and over along the commercial district on Harlem Avenue.

Trustees Cristin Evans, Alex Gallegos, Edward Hannon and Doug Pollock cast the votes in favor of allowing the village to allow retail cannabis dispensaries as a permitted use in the commercial district, while Wendell Jisa and Elizabeth Peters voted against the law after failing to get the vote delayed or amended to make it more restrictive.

Citing the comments of nearly 20 residents, almost all of whom expressed strong opposition to the law, as well as a preponderance of emails she'd received regarding the subject, Peters called the vote to allow cannabis dispensaries "premature and a dereliction of our duties" as trustees.

"We have an obligation to provide adequate time for the community to respond, if necessary by referendum," Peters said, echoing resident statements that they knew about the issue only for a matter of days.

"We also have an obligation to listen to the concerns of our citizens and to try to address those concerns before we move ahead, regardless of the incremental financial gains that may be acquired from immediate action," Peters added.

Peters and Jisa called for trustees to delay a vote on the ordinance until late November to allow for a town hall on the subject. Peters, in particular, said she wanted to delay action to see what the impact of legalizing cannabis sales has on other communities which allow it.

"I'm not willing to be the test case," Peters said.

But Village President Ben Sells and other trustees rejected the notion that the village's debate over whether to allow sales of recreational cannabis and, if so, how to regulate it was being kept under wraps.

Retail sale of recreational cannabis was a discussion item on village board agendas in July and August, which resulted in front-page local newspaper articles both times. The issue was also discussed by the village's preservation and economic development commissions before being the subject of a public hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission in late August.

The village board meeting on Sept. 5 represented the sixth public meeting where recreational cannabis welcomed resident input. With respect to delaying a vote until November, Sell said he doubted such a delay would change any minds.

"It's quite clear to me that what we are experiencing is a very heartfelt objection by a substantial minority of our residents against the idea of cannabis," Sells said. "It's hard for me to imagine a scenario where if we wait for months on this that we are going to hear anything differently than what we've heard the last two months."

The most vociferous opponents of allowing the sale of recreational cannabis were residents of Byrd and Berkeley roads in the northeast corner of the village, who are convinced that village officials want to allow a dispensary to open at the vacant commercial building at 2704 Harlem Ave.

Residents who also voiced the same concerns before the Planning and Zoning Commission last month, reiterated their fears that a dispensary would endanger their children, both through the existence of such a business itself and its clientele but also the additional traffic such a retail business would bring to an area that already sees cut-through traffic by motorists wishing to outflank traffic backups on Harlem Avenue.

"This is a decision that is going to impact the community across the board," said Byrd Road resident Erika Harford, who would return to the podium several times during the meeting to voice her opposition. "I do believe it is opening a Pandora's Box of issues that have not been adequately considered, and that is going to tarnish the legacy of the board members who are sitting in front of us here tonight."

A majority of the trustees, however, disagreed that a cannabis dispensary, whose operations are strictly regulated by state law with regard to security, lighting, store layout, signage and advertising, would pose a danger to children or the residential neighborhoods abutting the Harlem Avenue corridor.

Trustee Hannon joined Jisa and Peters in agreeing on an amendment that would have created a 1,000-foot buffer from schools for dispensaries. That restriction would have prevented such a business at 2704 Harlem Ave., but Sells broke that tie by voting against such an amendment.

"All the fear I hear, I feel it when I sit and I listen and I watch the faces of the people who I know are speaking from the heart," Sells said. "Yes, I hear you. But I don't agree with you."

Sell said there was no evidence dispensaries increased crime and added that signage rules were so restrictive that no child would know what the business was selling if they walked by.

"I read all of these horrible things that are going to happen, without a shred of evidence," Sells said. "If you want to say it's against my values, I personally don't want it here, absolutely. But don't try to bootstrap that into some kind of quasi-scientific argument that there's support for, because there isn't."



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Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Ronald Melka  

Posted: September 16th, 2019 4:25 PM

When I posted this information, it change ... to a ? which made it confusing.

Ronald Melka  

Posted: September 16th, 2019 4:18 PM

Here is some research on retail outlets and why it is bad for the community: according to a 3-year study in Denver, published in 2017 by Ohio State University, legal marijuana shops are linked to higher levels of property crime in nearby areas. They found that while crime isn't higher in the area immediately surrounding marijuana outlets, adjacent areas saw about 84 more property crimes per year? Being close to a retail outlet is bad for our youth: a study published July 15, 2015 in the Journal Addiction found that living near a marijuana dispensary increases the likelihood of marijuana use and frequency of use among young people aged 18-22. It also linked to a greater amount of days in the last month in which marijuana was used and those individuals held more positive views of the drug. In addition, a report by Seattle Schools states that 39% of kids who used marijuana received their drug from a medical marijuana dispensary, Source: Seattle Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Another study published in the Journal Addiction found that living near a marijuana dispensary increases the likelihood of marijuana use and frequency of use among young people aged 18-22. Additionally, living near a dispensary with advertisements had a four to six-fold greater impact on both of these outcomes.

Julie Scully Tucek from Riverside  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 7:26 PM

This decision should not have been made by four village residents who happen to be trustees. This should go to referendum. It's a far-reaching decision that can not be made responsibly without a full understanding of how many Riversides are in support of (or not) selling marijuana in our town. I would like to request and urge the trustees of our Village to pause here and ask for feedback via referendum before proceeding. How can votes be cast without this feedback and knowledge? Thank you.

Matthew Ranft  

Posted: September 10th, 2019 4:51 PM

Do we have no other recourse. I mean I have to believe the gambling machines would have went through if the community did not rally to oppose it. Same with the red light cameras but we were quiet on that one. Can we force the board to put up a referendum. I get and respect the board for trying to generate revenue however when those efforts run counter to our values we don't just have to take it. I know I can get at least 2 other people to come to the next board meeting to voice concern. If the 7 people commenting here bring 2 people I think we could have strong voice to be heard.

Mike Smolarek  

Posted: September 10th, 2019 1:30 PM

Riverside township voters overwhelming voted to legalize marijuana on the March 20, 2018 referendum. The link below lists the vote totals by precinct

Kathy Taylor Wyant  

Posted: September 9th, 2019 11:04 PM

Brian Kuratko, your comment is spot on. Some people who've supported legalization of recreational marijuana comment that the people will be calm and funny. If my children get hit by a driver who's high, that's not any better than them getting hit by a drunk driver. THC stays in the body a long time, up to 6-8 hours (warning from marijuana-industry attorneys).

Kathy Taylor Wyant  

Posted: September 9th, 2019 11:00 PM

The poor applicants for citizenship, too, who think they're okay to use marijuana or work in the industry, not realizing that, since it's still considered a federally illegal substance, they can be deported.

Ed Sel  

Posted: September 9th, 2019 12:59 PM

So it's red-light cameras and weed. That's the new Riverside. Sad thing is, very few people in town seem to care what happens as we can't even have competitive village board races. I totally believe this is all being pushed by a small but vocal super-minority of activists and lefties in the town. Same way the gay-flag thing was pushed around the suburbs and in Riverside. Most people are too busy living their lives and don't have time to supervise the village supervisors. The village leadership wants the money from this, but what if it's a bust? Do any of the trustees live remotely close to this pot-property? Would you want to? I'm guessing no. How much TIF money are you going to promise a weed-firm to open a shop there? What if it becomes a daily nightmare for the immediate area? Will this current board and legal team put poison-pills in any agreement that make undoing it under future boards impossibly expensive? Better watch these people.

Ana Guedea  

Posted: September 8th, 2019 5:48 PM

It is disingenuous of Ben Sells to say a "substantial minority" are against the pot store. How does he know? There should have been a referendum. This federally illegal business is being forced on our village by a highly vocal pushy group and leaders who are only hearing the cha ching and not the concerns of homeowners. So sad

Joanne Schaeffer  

Posted: September 8th, 2019 2:04 PM

and we teach in schools that pot is wrong, it's a gateway drug and now you'll be able to buy it right next door to other stores selling things that are legal and needed. How dumb our leaders are to allow pot to be sold in our communities without asking if we even want it here. Pot is a drug, might as well legalize cocaine and H, put the drug dealers out of business and make a ton in taxes for the politicians.

Ellie Babka  

Posted: September 8th, 2019 12:23 PM

Strictly regulated by State law, my foot! How many drivers are out there w/o their State license, how many victims are totally safe from their attackers who should stay 1,000 ft. away, how safe are those teens who vape? That is a State law also., is it not?

Brian Kuratko  

Posted: September 6th, 2019 7:14 PM

Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel appeared before the Illinois Senate Committee over 1 year ago as a representative of the Illinois Chiefs of Police, along with officials of the State of Colorado, expressing their concerns over this situation. The elected Illinois politicians, in reality, shut Chief Weitzel down and allowed this situation to happen. why is Chief Weitzel not being asked his opinions on this for Riverside? His testimony to the state leaders in Springfield was beyond impressive....

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