9/9/2019 1:40:00 PM More public discussion needed here on marijuana-dispensary issue
By SHAWN MITCHELL For the Daily News
On Aug. 27, the Robinson City Council met to discuss whether or not to prohibit recreational marijuana dispensaries. The meeting was at 6:30 p.m., half an hour earlier than regular council meetings are typically held. If you were to show up at the routine time, you would have missed the entire meeting. The only notice of the 6:30 meeting was two weeks earlier in the Daily News.
The meeting began by Mayor Roger Pethel clarifying what the meeting was about, briefly followed by Alderman Jim McKinney transparently expressing that not enough information was available on the subject to comfortably make a vote right away, and that was the purpose of having the public discussion about it.
I and one other individual spoke up in favor of the recreational dispensaries. I discussed the economic impact of how the tax revenue would benefit our state, county and city while providing a three-page packet with sources, detailed explanations, and also emphasized the fact that recreational marijuana would be legal in our state regardless, but we should seize the opportunity to make a profit on it.
The other individual beside me provided his speculation on how it would provide more jobs for our area.
We were heavily outnumbered, though, as the church community rallied together in favor of the prohibition of recreational dispensaries. It was difficult for everyone to stay on the subject of the actual dispensary prohibition as people used their testimony and opinions to express why they were against recreational marijuana and more or less ended with the note that dispensaries enabled the pastime they so passionately disagreed with.
The ongoing theme for those against it was consistently that they didn't want their kids to be near this "gateway drug" which could be detrimental to their future, and that even if it did have a positive impact on our economy, it wasn't worth compromising their morals.
Now that the stage has been set, I'd like to go more in-depth on why I believe recreational marijuana dispensaries should be allowed in our community. At the meeting, it was obvious there was a lack of knowledge on the subject, or simply some misconceptions about it.
One misconception was that marijuana would be running rampant all over the streets. While I want to remain a realist, and recognize there will be opportunity to abuse this newfound privilege (whether we have dispensaries here or not), people are still prohibited from using cannabis in any public place, such as streets or parks, in any motor vehicle, on school grounds, with the exception of medical users, near someone under the age of 21 or near an on-duty school bus driver, police officer, firefighter or corrections officer. Similar to alcohol laws, people cannot travel with an open container.
There also needs to be a firm understanding of how the tax revenue is used. The state's general fund will get 35 percent of the state's revenue, projected at around $440-676 million, which would be a huge dent in the state deficit. The legislation also set up a fund called "Restoring Our Communities" which will receive 25 percent of the tax revenue. 20 percent will go towards mental health and substance abuse treatment, and 10 percent will go towards law-enforcement and drug education.
The state will tax 10-25 percent on retail, while growers and processors will be taxed 7 percent on gross sales. Cities may charge another 3% and counties may charge an additional .5 percent.
The presence of a recreational dispensary would likely create more job opportunities in the area as well.
There are many other details involved with the 500+ page Cannabis Act that ensure dispensaries are properly handled in terms of location and branding.
Given the lack of information that was available at the previous discussion, along with the lack of awareness that it was occurring to begin with, I would encourage the city council to host another public discussion where we can go over more of the specifics in-depth so an informed decision can properly be made.
On Monday, Sept. 23, The Oblong Village Board will host its public discussion. I would urge residents of the county to attend this meeting and voice their opinion.
If you're interested in learning more about the Cannabis Act, and all the things involved with it, or if you're interested in signing our petition, you may visit our website (still under construction) www.ILMarijuana.org, where resources will be provided.
Shawn Mitchell is a Robinson High School graduate who still lives in Crawford County. He has worked in insurance, banking and business consulting.