By Leah Williams
On January 1, Illinois joins a growing rank of states in allowing the sale and use of recreational marijuana.
But now less than 90 days since the new law takes effect, many smaller communities are scrambling with little help from the state to enact complicated policies on the off chance that the new business venture will come into their communities.
The Washington County Zoning Committee will be holding an informational meeting on Wednesday, October 30, in the gym at the Community Center of Nashville. The meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., will be a way for citizens to voice their opinions about allowing cultivation and dispensary businesses within the county.
The responses from this meeting will be taken to the zoning committee, which will then make a full recommendation to the Washington County Board at a future full board meeting.
Zoning Board Chair Vic Schubert said during the special county board meeting on Thursday that after looking at all the research in nearby communities, the committee decided that it was in their best interest instead of having a normal hearing to have an information/public on new cannabis laws and how it will effect the county. He addded that the Oct. 30 meeting falls in line with the county time schedule to have an ordinance in placebefore Jan. 1 direct as well as to post a zoning hearing 15 days in advance.
“There are six parts to it and we can pick or choose what types we want to be a part of or not,” Schubert said.
Matt Bierman, county zoning administrator, has been researching what surrounding counties and municipalities have been enacting in the previous weeks. He said the purpose of the meeting will be to see where the public is in terms of allowing within the county borders.
“We want to see what the people have to say and then take that to the full board,” Bierman said.
Bierman stressed that the allowance of cultivation and dispensaries does not mean that private citizens would not be allowed to partake. This would just mean a “no” vote by the county would mean they would not be allowed to purchase their product in Washington County.
State’s Attorney Dan Bronke called the question of allowing cannabis businesses in the county a “multi-headed hydro” with many parts. It is not as simple as a yes or no; other things needed to be considered as well with each affirmative or negative possibility.
“Zoning is obviously the biggest thing because it starts with the initial question: Are we going to allow these businesses here or not? To grow or not? [After that], we can go through the rest of these and answer them.”
Bronke said if the county believes it is not lucrative enough, then it may be better to opt out.
“Ultimately if the county is not going to get sufficient enough tax revenue from it, then why would we want these businesses here?” he said.
According to reports, Mt. Vernon had recently passed ordinances that gave the city the control of where cannabis-related businesses could be located. The city received its first zoning application for a business to sell recreational marijuana in September, and the city council approved the permit for the new business at its meeting on Oct. 21.
“We may like to see how much trouble they are going to have,” Bronke said. “Do we even want to go down that road because Jefferson County is equipped to spend more where we have never budgeted to have to deal with this. if there are protests or problems and we don’t anything built to handle this… [It’s possible] that we may like to wait for the other counties to take a stab at it. Yeah, we may lose revenue but the likelihood of somebody wanting to come into Washington County to build why oh the property tax and get something for the enterprise zone. Maybe, we don’t know.”
Bronke said to date, no business or entity has expressed an interest in opening a dispensary or other business in Washington County.
“You almost don’t want to put the cart before the horse but you have got to start with something,” he said. “I think that is the hurdle that a lot of places are dealing with is that we don’t have a lot of direction from the state how things are supposed to be worded.”