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Sandwich aldermen hear residents' support, concerns on marijuana sales

SANDWICH – Residents filled the Sandwich City Council chambers to offer comments and listen to talks among aldermen about whether to allow adult-use recreational marijuana sales within the city limits during the city’s Committee of the Whole meeting this week.

City Council members talked about the matter during their Committee of the Whole meeting Monday at the Sandwich City Hall Annex, 128 E. Railroad St. Second Ward Alderman Kevin Kelleher and 3rd Ward Alderman Pete Dell were absent from the meeting.

The production, sale and use of recreational marijuana will become legal in Illinois effective Jan. 1 under legislation passed by General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker on June 25. Under the law, Sandwich and other communities have the authority to pass ordinances regulating the sale and production of recreational marijuana within their jurisdictions.

Sandwich resident Denise Hornback, who lives in the 4th Ward, said her son, Chad, who lives in the 3rd Ward, has Stage 4 esophageal cancer and has a medical marijuana card. She said marijuana helps his nausea from chemotherapy treatments every other week and helps him function every day, but he currently has to drive to North Aurora to get his marijuana.

“For the convenience of him to drive to Sandwich instead of North Aurora, that would be nice,” Hornback said. “But I agree, it is a revenue thing.”

Hornback said people would pass through the Sandwich area anyway if they were coming from Paw Paw, Leland, Sheridan or Somonauk to go to Plano or Yorkville, if those communities were to approve adult-use recreational cannabis sales.

Sandwich resident Elsie Morris, who lives in the 1st Ward, said she is concerned about the issue, citing a potential increase in traffic accidents and children having more access to the drug, and would want aldermen to vote against allowing the sales in town. She said she worked in the Sheridan Correctional Center for 20 years and taught inmates with drug problems, and all of the inmates she interacted with in the prison started with using marijuana.

For every inmate, she posed the question of whether they would keep selling drugs after they’re released from prison. Morris said all of them said they would keep doing so. She said they told her her they would because, if people are going to buy the drugs from somebody anyway, it might as well be from them.

“And that is the mindset of a drug dealer,” Morrissey said. “And if the council votes yes to make Sandwich a drug dispensary of marijuana, you will be accepting that mindset.”

The update comes after the city postponed the discussions last month due to lack-of-quorum concerns. The talks originally were scheduled during the city’s Committee of the Whole meeting Sept. 16.

Fourth Ward Alderwoman Sheryl Chmielewski said after the meeting that she takes the issue to heart, since she has family members with post-traumatic stress disorder who use medical marijuana with good results.

“My standpoint is, if it’s legal and anyone in our community can purchase it anywhere within the state and use it at home, then why not [have] a dispensary right here in our own community?” Chmielewski said.

First Ward Alderman Les Redden said there still is a research gap about marijuana from a scientific standpoint, since it still is considered a Schedule I narcotic and illegal at the federal level. According to a 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, he said, the short- and long-term benefits, harms and health effects of cannabis use remain elusive.

“With that in mind, you’re asking me to OK recreational marijuana, just to let you guys go out there and buy all you want and just get as high as you want,” Redden said. “I mean, that’s what you want me to endorse.”

Redden said after the meeting he would not explicitly say on record which way he’s leaning on the issue, citing the possibility of him changing his mind down the road.

Mayor Rich Robinson, who also is 1st Ward alderman, said after the meeting he’s still unsure which way he would vote on the matter, but he still has his own concerns about issues that could arise if the city allowed on-site consumption. He said he can see why residents would want the extra 3% sales tax revenue capture if it’s legal in the state anyway, but he also understands people having concerns about possible resulting crime or addiction.

“To me, I think we could say that we would allow it, but it still doesn’t mean that we would have it, because the state still has to approve somebody,” Robinson said. “Even if we said that we would allow it, maybe then somebody would come, but we’re not guaranteed what the monetary amount is going to be.”

Robinson said the Monday meeting was meant for aldermen to get a better feel for where the public stands on the issue. Once the City Council determines whether or not they want to allow the sales, he said, the next steps include determining what zoning for dispensaries or cultivation centers would look like and adjusting city personnel ordinances.

Sandwich City Attorney Jessica Harrill said it would be ideal for the City Council to make a decision on the matter by Thanksgiving so that the city’s legal counsel has enough time to draft the necessary ordinances before the state law goes into effect Jan. 1.