Urbana sets rules on siting pot shops

Urbana sets rules on siting pot shops

URBANA — It could be a matter of months before marijuana is grown and sold for medicinal purposes in Urbana after city council members on Monday unanimously OK'd new regulations governing where and how the pot-friendly businesses can open.

That approval was an early step to set the city up to host the new kind of business, and at least one group already has plans. Two men looking to open a medicinal marijuana dispensary asked city officials for an endorsement as they seek a state license to sell the medication.

They think the nine-county region could bring in as many as 700 patients with marijuana prescriptions — that could mean 50 patients per day and at least tens of thousands of dollars in new tax revenue for the city.

The state will issue two licenses to sellers and one license to a grower in the nine-county East Central Illinois region that includes Champaign County. Dozens more licenses are available in other parts of the state.

David Brodsky, one of the partners looking to open a shop in Urbana, said the area looks well-positioned to play host to the emerging industry.

"We think it's inevitable that one, at least, is going to end up in the Champaign-Urbana area," Brodsky said.

City officials think getting in early will cement Urbana's reputation as a regional health care center. With the limited number of state licenses available, Urbana would be one of the few places patients can visit to buy their medication.

While the state law governs security, licensing and other operational rules for marijuana sellers and growers, the zoning rules city council members finalized on Monday night regulate largely where the shops can open. Because the law is so new, Urbana did not have rules outlining where they can locate, and cities all over the state are still catching up.

City officials noted that state law prescribes, among other rules, what patients are eligible to receive prescriptions, how much they can buy and how employees of the marijuana shops are monitored.

"I can't stress enough how restrictive the state of Illinois act is, and very controlled," said city planner Kevin Garcia.

In Urbana, growers would be prohibited from locating anywhere within 2,500 feet of schools, day care facilities or residential areas. That confines them mostly to an industrial and agricultural area in the far northwest corner of the city near North Lincoln Avenue.

Dispensaries, where the medication is actually sold to patients, will have considerably more leeway. They will still need a 1,000-foot buffer from schools and day care facilities, but they will be allowed in commercial areas.

Alderwoman Diane Marlin, D-Ward 7, wondered if the city could have tighter review on where the businesses could open.

"It's not quite a drugstore and it's not quite a liquor store," Marlin said. "It's a completely new business for the state."

One site that would qualify is 203 N. Vine St., former location of The Corkscrew wine store. Brodsky and his business partners have an offer in on that 6,000-square-foot property.

"That's what's available, and that's what will meet the zoning specifications," Brodsky said.

There will be some competition for the limited number of licenses — Garcia said two other potential licensees have expressed interest in the same area as Brodsky and his partners. Brodsky anticipates the first harvests and sales could begin anywhere between March and September 2015 while the state still works through its rule-making process for the four-year pilot program that sunsets at the end of 2017.

Brodsky showed city council members a picture of the Steamboat Springs, Colo., dispensary he has owned for a year. It depicted a modest storefront with blacked-out windows and a green cross indicating the nature of the business. Brodsky described it as "discreet," with no neon or flashing signs.

Alderwoman Carol Ammons, D-Ward 3, had a more general concern about the law. She said there is a double standard between entrepreneurship and criminal activity that needs to be addressed.

"The state needs to look at the act itself and, more than not, they need to adjust it," Ammons said. "On one hand, you have these legal uses of marijuana, and on the other hand, you have these huge populations of people that are going to prison for the use of marijuana."

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