URBANA — Aldermen heard from a half-dozen community members Monday on what the city should do about recreational-cannabis sales.
It’s the first of three meetings that will determine whether the city will allow the sale of cannabis within its limits when it becomes legal Jan. 1, and if so, how to regulate and tax it. Aldermen will give their opinions Aug. 26, then take a vote Sept. 3.
At Monday’s “listening session,” Taylor Dent, who said she moved back to Urbana from Washington, D.C., where cannabis has been legal since 2014, said the biggest concern she has is equity.
“My concern is about who can leverage the opportunities in selling and being in the ‘canna-business,’” Dent said. “One of my questions is whether there will be any incentives or any push to try to create access for small business to get ahead and have our own locally owned dispensaries. It’s important that we get the community involved in making more local business so our money we make from recreational stays here.”
Mike Lehman, who said he has worked on the issue of legalizing cannabis for decades, said a city situated in “prime agricultural land” should be at the forefront of innovating with the plant.
“We live in a town where there is expertise in agriculture,” Lehman said. “We live somewhere where people have done this for years, and it’s certainly things that lead to economic development. Towns that have embraced (cannabis) have done well.”
But it was not all praise Monday. David Rogers, who runs the Lifeline Connect residential recovery center for men in Urbana, said he had a “conscious responsibility to speak on this subject.” He said that among all the men he has worked with over the past 30 years, “95 percent of our clients, in their story of how they got to heroin addiction or meth addiction or so forth, have the common thread of marijuana.”
Les Cotton, a pastor and graduate of Lifeline Connect, said he was addicted to cannabis. He cited statistics that show it has lead to more fatal accidents, seizures and a larger number of suspensions at schools in states that have legalized it.
But Meghan McDonald, who uses marijuana daily to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, said that it’s not cannabis that’s the gateway — “The gateway is trauma.”
“The reason I’m up here is the result of a moral responsibility,” McDonald said. “I have PTSD and triggers that come along with my past trauma and overcoming alcohol addiction. I went to months of group therapy meetings, took SSRIs, had therapy dogs, you name it. Nothing has helped me or saved me the way cannabis has. Urbana should take the tax money.”