Columbia considers cannabis


The Columbia Committee of the Whole met Monday night to discuss how it is going to handle marijuana businesses when the drug becomes legal for recreational consumption by individuals 21 and older on Jan. 1.   

No decision was made at the meeting, which was the first time the Columbia City Council has addressed the issue. 

“This is a good first step,” Alderman Gene Ebersohl said at the end of the meeting. 

About half the meeting consisted of City Administrator Douglas Brimm and Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey giving a presentation on the basics of the new law and its impact on municipalities. 

Brimm emphasized that  while Columbia cannot ban the consumption of cannabis, the state does allow municipalities to regulate it in other ways. 

“We cannot say that (residents) cannot possess it and they cannot consume it,” Brimm explained. “What we can do is tax it and say where, if anywhere, we are going to allow the growth, distribution, sale, production or laboratory processing.” 

One factor municipalities must consider when making this decision is the monetary aspect of allowing cannabis businesses.

Eight percent of state revenue from cannabis taxes will go to local governments for “crime prevention programs, training and interdiction efforts including detection, enforcements and prevention efforts relating to the illegal cannabis market and driving under the influence,” according to the law.

Brimm estimated Columbia would get $30,300-$46,000 from that, which it will receive regardless of whether it has any cannabis establishments.  

“Even if you… choose not to allow the sale and distribution within the corporate limits of Columbia, we still get a portion of the statewide revenue that is passed down to the cities,” Brimm told the committee. 

“It is important to note this is a new market,” he added. “As such, revenues are extremely difficult to project.” 

Columbia could get more money from legal marijuana by imposing an up to 3 percent tax on gross cannabis sales in the city. 

In addition to regular sales tax, Brimm estimated that could generate $200,000-$800,000 in revenue. 

Of course, there are numerous other factors to consider, many of which came up when aldermen asked questions or heard public comments on the matter. 

Those issues include the impact on law enforcement, crime, traffic accidents, youth use and more. 

After a question from Alderman Steve Holtkamp, Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul explained the protocol for dealing with someone suspected of driving under the influence of cannabis. 

The officer would pull the person over, conduct a field sobriety test, bring the motorist to the police station to do basic paperwork then take them to have their blood drawn to test for THC levels. 

THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that gives users the high. 

The legal limit under the new law is 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of whole blood or 10 nanograms per milliliter of another bodily substance. 

Paul emphasized a blood test is not necessary for an arrest, but could prove valuable in court. 

As the city considers those factors and more, it has a few options for how it can regulate cannabis businesses. 

It can completely prohibit or allow licenses for cannabis businesses, allow only certain types of cannabis businesses, use zoning to control the issue while monitoring the impact on peer communities or have a local advisory referendum. 

There are five types of licenses for cannabis businesses: dispensaries, infusers, transporters, craft growers and cultivation centers, Dunakey said. 

The law allows municipalities to regulate those businesses in a number of ways including limiting the number and location of them and prohibiting on-premises consumption. 

It will be illegal statewide to have the businesses located within 1,500 feet of each other, within 1,000 feat of school grounds and to consume cannabis in public places, around underage people, places where smoking is illegal, on school grounds, in vehicles and more. 

Dunakey also said there are strict security requirements for any cannabis business. Those include  having a restricted access area for storage and camera systems fed directly to the Illinois State Police. 

“I’ve seen the news clips from Colorado and I’ve visited Colorado, and it’s like a candy shop,” Dunakey said. “That’s not what they’re going to allow here.” 

After the presentation, six members of the public spoke, with three for allowing businesses immediately and three against them – at least for now. 

One of those individuals referenced information from the Monroe County Coalition for Drug-Free Communities forum on the impact of legal marijuana on Monroe County, which took place last Wednesday at Hope Christian Church. 

At that event, Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing and County Commissioner Vicki Koerber spoke at the law enforcement and legislative impact, respectively, of the law. Both are against the legalization of recreational marijuana. 

There was little indication how the Columbia City Council leaned, though Holtkamp and Alderman Mark Roessler expressed a desire to at least take a wait-and-see approach. 

There is no timeline for when the city must make a decision on this issue, as it is not expecting to have any applications for cannabis businesses until later in 2020 at the earliest. 

Currently, cannabis businesses are not explicitly permitted under the city’s zoning ordinances, so any application would not be approved. 

In June, Illinois became the 11th state to allow recreational marijuana. Effective Jan. 1, residents can legally purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana at a time.

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, a public hearing will take place at 7:15 p.m. inside Waterloo City Hall for the purpose of considering and hearing testimony regarding adult-use cannabis businesses in Waterloo. All interested parties will be given the opportunity to speak at this hearing.

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