Marijuana-friendly ordinances OK'd
URBANA — It's high time to let medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries open up shop in town, city officials say.
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They are looking to change their own rules to allow the businesses made legal under the state's new medical marijuana law to find a place within the city. Right now, Urbana does not have any laws that govern cannabis dispensaries and cultivation, and the plan commission Thursday night approved changes to city ordinances that regulate where and how pot shops can open.
That could be the first step in allowing the shops or a grow center to open in Urbana. Assuming the city council gives the green light, the businesses that operate legally under the new state rules on medical marijuana would be allowed to open in the city's industrial, business or agricultural districts.
The state law prescribes the security and licensing requirements for the businesses. City rules will govern where they can be located.
Cultivation centers, where marijuana plants are grown, would need approval from either the city council or zoning board of appeals. Dispensaries, where medical marijuana is sold to customers, would not need special approval.
Neither would be allowed anywhere near schools or day care facilities — cultivation centers would need a 2,500-foot buffer from those areas, and dispensaries would need 1,000 feet of separation. Cultivation centers would also need a 2,500-foot buffer from residential areas, and dispensaries would be prohibited from operating out of any house, apartment or condominium.
That leaves only one small area of the city where cultivation centers would be allowed to open: in an industrial area west of Lincoln Avenue in the far northwest corner of the city.
Dispensaries would have considerably more options: Among them are anywhere within a couple blocks of the intersection of University and Cunningham avenues, near North Lincoln Avenue, on University Avenue immediately north of the University of Illinois campus, and just about anywhere north of Interstate 74.
The businesses are competing for a limited number of state permits. In the entire state of Illinois, licenses will be granted to only 60 dispensaries and 21 cultivation centers.
And those numbers are further divvied up among several districts. The numbers are far fewer in Urbana's nine-county district, where only one cultivation center and two dispensaries would be allowed to open, said city planner Kevin Garcia.
Given those limits, he said, the addition of medical marijuana businesses would reinforce the city's strong health care industry.
"We feel that allowing these uses, if somebody chose to site one or more of them, would certainly strengthen Urbana's role as a regional health care center," Garcia said.
And potential business owners are looking at Urbana. Plan commissioner Andrew Fell asked city administrators if it is something they are trying to lure to the area.
"We have received a few inquiries from businesses," said city planner Jeff Engstrom. "Yeah, we feel it would be compatible with the city. It would help our standing as a regional medical center. It would be good for taxes."
Plan commission chairman Tyler Fitch pointed out that, as limited as the available licenses are, Urbana could be the medical marijuana center of East Central Illinois.
"We could conceivably corner the market in this district," he said.