The Hoopeston City Council conducted a special meeting last week to hear public comments regarding the city potentially allowing licensed local businesses to sell marijuana in the future.

The issue was brought up in light of the state legislature passing the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which will allow “adults 21 years and older in Illinois to purchase up to 30 grams (or about one ounce) of cannabis flower; no more than 500 milligrans of THC contain in cannabis-infused product; 5 grams of cannabis concentrate.”

The law goes into effect in 2020 and to be able to legally sell marijuana in Illinois, a business must have a license from the state.

These licenses will be expensive, including a $5,000 non-refundable application fee, and hard to obtain for the foreseeable future.

Only 75 dispensary licenses will be issued for the entire state by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Of those 75, 47 will be earmarked for the Cook County region while the rest will be doled out amongst the rest of the state.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Vermilion County will only receive one license in the first year.

These licenses are in addition to those available for the operators of the state’s 55 medical pot shops, which have first crack at selling recreational marijuana.

Though marijuana will be legal in Illinois as of next year, the sale of it will be tightly regulated by the state and local governments have the choice to ban the legal sale of marijuana in their communities.

Last week’s meeting of the Hoopeston City Council was aimed at gathering local opinions on whether the city should allow marijuana sales locally.

While some residents could see the potential for possible new sources of revenue from allowing the sale of marijuana locally, most of those present during the meeting were opposed to the idea.

“Is it worth bringing it here for the money? Is it free money, no, in my opinion, no,” Keith Whitaker said.

Whitaker foresees an increase in traffic fatalities and other ill-effects among young people who use it.

He also raised concerns about the more highly concentrated form of marijuana available for sale today in comparison to years ago.

“Marijuana is not the same as what you grew up with,” Whitaker said.

Emery Zimmerman said that medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor isn’t an issue, but felt that allowing the legal sale of marijuana in the city would be “opening a can of worms.

Pastor David Bowen views marijuana as a “gateway drug” and feels that it opens the way for other drug use and could potentially increase criminal activity locally.

Pastor Adam Taubert said he considers marijuana “demonic” and feels that it changes the brain and causes mental disorders.

Jerry Hopkins said he was totally against it in Hoopeston, citing the city’s existing reputation as a drug town despite the police doing everything they can to curtail the issue.

Mark Wagoner, a former Hoopeston Area School District Board of Education president, feels that allowing marijuana sales in town would be in conflict with the district’s support of DARE program.

“If allowed, will Hoopeston be a better place to raise kids? My personal opinion is no,” Wagoner said.

Wagoner also asked if the city allows marijuana sales, if that would impact the city’s ability to receive federal funding.

There were several audience members who feel the idea merits more consideration.

Jeff Keith said he wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but suggested the city look further into the potential benefits of the idea and not close the door on potential future opportunities for the city.

Keith also dispelled some of the ideas of marijuana being a gateway drug.

Pointing to his experience as a paramedic in Danville, Keith considers alcohol to be more of a gateway drug.

“There’s never been a fatality with cannabis,” he said. “No such thing as a cannabis overdose.”

Kelly Ferrell raised the point that, regardless of the council’s decision, marijuana will be legal in Illinois next year.

The question is, Ferrell said, whether or not Hoopeston will be in a position to potentially benefit from the new status quo.

“It’s not whether we want it or not. It’s been allowed,” she said. “Are we going to allow it to help fix things in our city?”

If the city doesn’t allow marijuana sales, Ferrell said, it will be cutting off a new potential source of revenue.

David Webber, who first brought this issue to the council a few months ago and has been advocating for the city to approve marijuana sales, reiterated Ferrell’s point that marijuana will be legal and city residents will be able to legally obtain it, whether they buy it locally or not.

He said choosing to ban the sale of it locally will only serve to ensure that the city lose out on possible tax revenue.

Webber said that by legalizing marijuana and taking it out the hands of the black market, the sale and distribution of it is more controlled and safe.

“If the city welcomes it, the city can keep an eye on it,” he said.

Daivin Kayne Michael Emling, owner of Daiven Kayen Enterprises, wants to bring a CBD (Cannabidiol) store to Hoopeston and felt there was a lot of misinformation being spread about marijuana and the sale of marijuana.

He said the sale of marijuana would not interfere with municipal funding and said that allowing the sale of marijuana would generate new revenue for the city.

To cap the meeting, each of the council members present was given the chance to share their thoughts on the issue.

Alderman Bill Goodwine said that the city should do whatever it can for responsible families in the city.

Alderman Jeff Wise said that marijuana will be legal in Hoopeston just as it will throughout the rest of the state.

The city can’t stop people from using it after it is legal, he said, but marijuana sales can be taxed by the city, on top of the state and county government, if the city allows marijuana sales locally.

Lawson said it was important to get the input of local residents on a decision like this one.

“Our job is to listen and learn,” Lawson said.

Alderman Alex Houmes said the council needs to research the issue more before it can be brought to a vote.

- Reporting by Carol Hicks