Waterloo weighs in on weed


After hearing from residents on the issue during a public hearing last Tuesday, the Waterloo planning and ordinance committees voted 5-3 on Monday for an ordinance that prohibits retail recreational cannabis businesses within city limits. 

The issue now goes before the city council at its Nov. 4 meeting to be considered as an official ordinance.

Aldermen Stan Darter, Jim Trantham, Jim Hopkins, Russ Row and Clyde Heller voted for the proposed ordinance at Monday’s committee meeting. 

“I think there are a lot of things that are not necessary to your community,” Darter said, noting he is a member of the Monroe County Coalition for Drug-Free Communities. “Marijuana may be legal, but Waterloo as a community, I don’t think we wish to put our stamp of approval on that.”

Aldermen Russ Thomas, Steve Notheisen and Kyle Buettner voted against the ordinance.

“If marijuana is legal, it should be open to have a business here in town,” Notheisen told the Republic-Times. “We have significant numbers of bars, microbreweries, wine bars, and I don’t feel that cannabis is any more harmful to people than alcohol. Yes it’s bad for children, and it’s illegal for children.”

Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith clarified with the Republic-Times on Thursday that the city permits zoning for future medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

“We’re not outlawing medical marijuana,” Smith stressed.

The proposed ordinance issue now goes before the Waterloo City Council at its Nov. 4 meeting for official approval.

Monday’s votes came after the city held a public hearing on whether it should allow cannabis businesses when adult-use recreational marijuana becomes legal in Illinois on Jan. 1.

Five residents were against allowing the establishments, three were for it and two expressed no opinion. Seventeen people attended the meeting. 

The first person to speak was chiropractor Jamil Tannous, whose office is in downtown Waterloo. 

He was against allowing the businesses, citing health concerns for individuals who smoke marijuana, the impact of secondhand smoke, the effect on youth and traffic safety issues, among other points. 

Tannous cited a few studies from as far back as 1982 to support his case. 

“You’re allowing citizens to take a psychotropic drug… it’s insane,” he summed up. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The next speaker, Chris Baker, spoke in favor of allowing the businesses, reasoning the city will have to cope with any negative consequences of legal cannabis even if it is not sold in Waterloo. 

“Even if we ban these sales in Waterloo, everything (Tannous) just mentioned is still going to happen,” he argued. “We’re not 50 miles from the nearest town. It’s ridiculous.”

Baker also said Waterloo allows other “vices” like video gambling and alcohol, which it gets tax dollars from. 

He said the city has specifically benefited from allowing alcohol sales – something he said is similar to the cannabis issue because the current discussion is essentially about prohibition. 

“I don’t see a reason to close our eyes to the future when we see how repealing the prohibition has benefited our community,” he said. 

Another individual who was for allowing cannabis businesses merely said he agreed with everything Baker said. 

Jamie Rykers did not.

A former teacher in Belleville who has also taught in Columbia and Waterloo, she said allowing cannabis businesses would negatively impact underage individuals. 

“I can tell you as a matter of anecdotal fact that selling this in this community would be one of the most detrimental things for our youth that you could possibly allow,” she said. 

Marijuana consumption will only be legal for those over 21, per state law.

Rykers went as far as to say if Waterloo allows cannabis businesses just for the tax money, it may as well continue down that path by legalizing “prostitution or why not some dog fighting?”

“If we’re going to have vices and open the door, why not open it all the way?” she asked. “The reason we shouldn’t open it all the way is because kids already do not understand the negative, possible side effects of marijuana.”

Rykers also predicted that allowing cannabis businesses would result in people moving out of the city. 

Longtime Waterloo resident Dorothy Uebelein told the city council members it could count her among those individuals. 

“If we want our wonderful community to go to hell in a hand basket just because of the dollar, well I’m out of here,” she said. 

Representing the Monroe County Coalition for Drug-Free Communities, Bill Rebholz agreed that allowing cannabis businesses would lower property values. 

But that is not the main reason the coalition is against it. 

“We believe that allowing adult-use cannabis business establishments in Waterloo is a community condition that will contribute to substance abuse,” Rebholz said. 

He referenced a National Institutes of Health study that found one in 11 adults who use marijuana will become addicted, with that number being one in six for teenagers. 

He also addressed the argument that other municipalities will have these businesses – pointing out places like strip clubs and casinos are legal elsewhere but not in Waterloo – and the city is doing fine. 

Additionally, Rebholz shared concerns about the impact on youth. 

“Allowing the retail selling of marijuana will be an endorsement of a behavior that this community has heretofore not endorsed,” he said. “In a sense, it signals to our children that the adults in Waterloo are OK with its use.”

Stubborn German Brewing Company owner Tammy Rahn spoke next, saying she has no opinion on the issue yet but wanted Waterloo to decide based on its values, not money. 

She also said she would prefer if any cannabis businesses were not located downtown. 

“Personally, would I want a dispensary right next to my business?” Rahn rhetorically asked. “No. But would I mind if it was in a strip mall like right next to Rural King? No.” 

Tony Troup, a pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church, then voiced his opposition to the matter, again citing the impact on youth. 

“If we allow businesses to sell marijuana, I think the message is ‘when you’re under stress, when you have a problem, get high,’” he said. “And I don’t think that’s the message our city wants to send to young people.”

The final member of the public to speak in favor of the issue was Emily Richardson, who, like Baker, said marijuana businesses would not be too different than alcohol-based businesses. 

“I don’t see marijuana as causing any more havoc than alcohol ever has, whether we sell it here or we don’t sell it here,” she said. 

The council gave no indication of which way it was leaning last Tuesday, but, after a question from a neutral James Gallagher, Mayor Tom Smith voiced his thoughts. 

“I can tell you from my law enforcement side, I’m against,” the former Illinois State Police trooper said. “But I don’t get to vote unless it’s a 4-4 tie.”

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