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CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign City Council said it will adopt a wait-and-see approach to enacting regulations regarding the use of recreational marijuana — such as, if its use is allowed inside a dispensary that sells it.

State law says municipalities have the option of allowing social consumption in private spaces like dispensaries, but council members like Tom Bruno said they first want to see what impact legalized recreational use has on the city.

“It will be a learning experience to see whether it’s impactful or not,” Bruno said. “I suspect it won’t be that noticed. There’s already cannabis consumption in our community for decades obviously, and it takes place without many of us noticing it. It’ll continue to take place without many of us noticing it once it’s legal, too.”

Bruno said he doesn’t think that fines aimed at punishing public use would have the effect the city imagines, as cannabis can often be consumed without people noticing it.

But Bruno said he is concerned there could be unintended consequences when it comes to expunging cannabis violations from people’s records.

He asked whether expungement could effectively leave underrepresented groups without the evidence required in applications to some of the social equity programs set up within the marijuana legalization bill.

Council member Clarissa Fourman asked city staff how the expungement process will work, as well as how it will impact people in the areas identified by the state as being historically disproportionately affected by drug laws. In Champaign, that includes the predominantly African-American north side.

“One irony that just struck me when Fourman was raising questions of social equity, is that you would have destroyed the record that you are entitled to a social benefit program,” Bruno said. “If the authorities expunge the records, there’s no longer any record of being disproportionately affected. How can you expunge and still have a social equity claim?”

Still, when it comes to on-premises consumption of recreational cannabis, council member Matt Gladney told his colleagues he would be willing to go ahead and direct staff to opt in. The rest of the council disagreed, but Gladney likened a social consumption establishment to bars.

“To be honest, when I first came to the notion of on-premises consumption, I didn’t quite get it,” he said. “Are people going to sit there and smoke a joint? But then it came to me that that’s what a bar is. People go into a building and consume alcohol. We don’t think that’s weird.”

In other business, council members directed staff to conform with state law and bring an ordinance forward that would allow establishments with certain liquor licenses to have up to six video gambling terminals.

Council member Greg Stock, though, said he does not believe the city should expand access to gambling.

“I’ve heard of people being evicted from their houses and seeking assistance for good, all because they’ve literally gambled away their checks,” Stock said. “I don’t think it’s good for the citizens.”

And council members also heard from Emily Klose, who criticized the body for governing “from a position of haste, anger and resentment” as it relates to recommendations made by the Citizen Review Subcommittee to revamp the citizen complaint process.

“I’m really going to be interested in putting in my two cents about the ordinances,” Klose said of the study session request made last week that will see the council review all boards and commissions. “I’m looking forward to getting some answers.”

She also told council members that they work for her, and not the city manager.

“The city manager doesn’t work you, the chief doesn’t work for himself or the council or any of those variations,” Klose said, pointing to a chart of the city’s leadership structure. “You guys work for me. I’m one of the 85,000 people who live here. And I think it’s good that we’re going to be heard. We’re going to be heard about the citizen complaint process finally. Bravo that you finally got this off the ground.”

Reporter

Aldo Toledo is a reporter covering local government at The News-Gazette. His email is atoledo@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@aldot29).