SAVOY — No residents spoke about allowing marijuana sales in Savoy at a meeting last month scheduled specifically to discuss the issue. So the village decided to try again.
About 20 showed up Wednesday evening for the second attempt at a discussion, with five choosing to address the issue. Two were strongly in favor of cannabis sales and taxation. The other three expressed various degrees of concern, ranging from issues with where marijuana would be allowed to outright opposition.
The meeting was only a study session, so no vote was taken. The village’s planning commission will take up the issue again to make a recommendation to the board about whether to ban or allow dispensaries; if allowed, where they’ll be able to open; and whether to tax sales of cannabis up to 3 percent.
Resident Joey Morton said he is in favor of cannabis sales because of the tax benefits to the city and because of the potential benefits of marijuana, citing a friend who had abused alcohol but then turned to marijuana.
“Through the use of cannabis, he was able to actually return back to school and is essentially a stable member of society,” Morton said.
Jim Onderdonk said he also knows people who used recreational marijuana to deal with ailments such as Parkinson’s and MS.
“Their doctors will not write them a prescription because they’re afraid of the federal government,” which still considers cannabis illegal, he said, but they still used recreational marijuana.
He also supported cannabis sales for the tax revenue, the potential jobs it could bring and because “it’s legal. I don’t know why we should restrict a legal activity,” Onderdonk said.
Though he doesn’t expect a dispensary to open in Savoy, he said, “I think it would behoove us to have a welcoming policy.”
While Onderdonk and Morton had personal stories of marijuana’s benefits, Marilyn Hancock said her niece in Texas has been addicted to it.
She “went to a rehab center,” Hancock said, and smoked it in front of her children, leading child protection services to not allow her to be alone with them.
“That got to be very cumbersome,” she said. “I’m just saying, there’s children involved in all of this, too. It’s not just individuals who want to smoke marijuana. There’s consequences for their children and for the adults.”
Kris Hamblin said she would prefer cannabis not be sold in Savoy, but if it were to be, she was concerned about where it would be allowed to be used and how the police would deal with impaired drivers.
Former village trustee Bill Smith was also concerned about where marijuana could be smoked, not wanting it allowed in parks.
Village Attorney Marc Miller clarified that once adult-use recreational marijuana becomes legal on Jan. 1, it would be treated like tobacco and wouldn’t be allowed to be smoked in public places, including parks.
And he said that driving while smoking would be treated by law enforcement “like any other impairment” and was beyond the village’s control.
A few of the trustees said that in their conversations with residents, opinion seems split on the issue.
“Some are in favor. They would collect the tax dollar, see it as a business and (have) no problem with it,” Trustee Heather Mangian said. “And equal number oppose. So at this point, there’s no clear indication from the people I’ve spoken with.”
Trustee Jan Carter Niccum said his cousin owns a dispensary in Colorado Springs, Colo. After conversations with him, he said he wasn’t concerned about an increase in crime, but was about an increase in DUIs.
Trustee A.J. Ruggieri had similar concerns about driving while impaired.
“What is the risk of danger to our citizens?” he asked. “As we know, it’s illegal to drink and drive in Savoy as well, and people do that all the time.”
Trustee Bill Vavirk said he wanted more information about what it would mean for the village to have a dispensary.
“What is the impact of a dispensary on a community?” he asked. “It’s a different impact than it would be if it was sale and consumption at about the same place, or consumption in a common area.”
Under the new law, local towns can’t prevent residents from using recreational marijuana in their homes.
“Consumption is going to happen in Savoy no matter what this board does,” Vavirk said.
Village President Joan Dykstra said she thinks it makes sense to wait and see how dispensaries work for other communities.
“Yes, we can’t do anything about (marijuana in) somebody’s home. I get that. All we are is a policy body of what we want in our community,” she said. “I do believe we should err on the side of caution and wait and see. There is a dispensary really close to Savoy, so it’s not like people from Savoy” won’t be able to buy marijuana.
“I’m concerned about the community,” she said.
Ruggieri also expressed concern about what it would mean for the village’s reputation to allow sales.
“Do we want to have that perception as being a village that accepts dispensaries?” he said. “It’s the same thing as having perhaps a gentleman’s club or places that sell pornography. Obviously, all those things are legal, and you can find it if you want it. Do we, as citizens of Savoy, want it within our borders? I think that’s really the basic thing that we need to come to a decision on, and we just need to get more information, more input from our constituents.”