Photo by Carla Waters

Alderman Benny Marcier speaks against cannabis facilities in Watseka as Alderman Darrin Rushbrook and Alderman Dennis Cahoe listen.

The Watseka City Council Tuesday night approved an amendment ordinance to possibly allow cannabis facilities in the city limits.

There are no such facilities interested at this time. The city has already approved a three percent tax on the sale should it ever happen.

The discussions and approvals come on the heels of a state law that was passed earlier this year that will allow cannabis possession for adults. That law takes effect Jan. 1 and will allow adult to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana.

The measure, Ordinance 2553 amends Chapter 36, zoning of the City of Watseka Municipal Code, codifying special use factors and providing for siting and regulation of cannabis organizations.

City Attorney Joe Cainkar and Mayor John Allhands both emphasized that the city will still have the right to turn such an enterprise down. The ordinance just provides for the possibility of it happening.

Some city officials spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting and again during the regular meeting about the fact that other communities could approve the facilities even if Watseka doesn’t, so it could be nearby. Other officials said it is an endeavor Watseka does not need.

Allhands said after the meeting that the facilities cannot be within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and churches. There are facilities that could be for retail and would be zoned B1 or B2, he said, and would be neighborhood business and central business. There are also facilities that could be for processing and would be zoned M1 and M2.

“They have to meet all the criteria,” Allhands said. In fact, he had wanted to have an educational meeting about the matter with representatives from the University of Illinois and the Illinois Department of Agriculture but could not get that accomplished. He said that could still happen at a later time.

Other criteria included in the ordinance states that the facilities would be allowed in the city limits only on Route 1 to the 24/1 junction and then from junction to junction on U.S. 24.

Cainkar said, “Anyone who comes in and wants to open a dispensary or a cultivation center has to apply for a special use permit. Within the special use permit process there are standards that need to be satisfied and assuming they are satisfied you grant it and if they are not, then it’s not. You do have some discretion over the process, that’s why we made it special use as opposed to permit use.”

When talking about the ordinance, Alderman Benny Marcier said, “I don’t like any of it. Just because a politician makes it legal, that doesn’t make it right. I think Watseka has a big drug problem the way it is. I understand the financial part of it, but that shouldn’t be the whole picture.”

He said the city would be faced with more expenses as the police department deals with issues related to the facilities. He said that the revenue that the city might get from the sales might not offset the expenses that the police and other departments might incur.

He said he is concerned about what the police will have to deal with as users come to town. Alderman Darrin Rushbrook said that those buying the cannabis will have to follow certain guidelines, too. “They can’t smoke it while they are driving. They can’t smoke it while they are walking down the street,” he said.

“You guys have no say over users at all,” Cainkar interjected. “It’s state law. It’s legal starting Jan. 1. All you are doing here is siting dispensaries or cultivation centers or those type of things. Using it doesn’t matter. If they get it in Kankakee and they come back here and use it, the police can’t arrest them.”

Rushbrook said as he understands not everything has been finalized on the laws regarding usage.

“Well, starting Jan. 1 you can have up to 30 grams on you of the actual plant. You can use it in your home. Yes, you cannot use it in public. I can guarantee you there’s going to be changes to the law in the next couple of years, but right now it takes effect in January.”

“It’s certainly a bad example,” Marcier said.

Ulfers said she has never used drugs. “I don’t know anything about them,” she said. “But if we don’t do this, down the road, somebody’s going to do it. Somebody’s going to be next door to us…and they reap from the funds. We reap nothing if we say no. There will be a lot of money in it. And I’ll be honest with you, if you talk to people they will tell you it’s not the marijuana that’s the problem. It’s a lot tougher stuff than that.”

“So if we are thinking about making money off this why don’t we just legalize meth or heroin?” Marcier asked.

“That’s still illegal in the state of Illinois,” Alderman Mark Garfield said.

Garfield said that he agrees with Ulfers that someone will allow it and make money off of it.

During regular session the council took a vote on the matter, with Alderman Marcier and Alderman Dennis Cahoe voting no. Alderman Dave Mayotte was absent.