By Leah Williams
While recreational marijuana becomes legal in Illinois at the beginning of next year, the possibility of allowing pot business in Washington County remains a question.
An informational meeting was held on Wednesday, October 30, in the gymnasium at the Community Center of Nashville, where community members and elected officials congregated to voice their support or concern of whether cannabis can be a profitable enough business in the county.
Zoning Administrator Matt Bierman introduced the matter in front of a crowd of less than 100 people. He said many counties and municipalities surrounding Washington County are starting to make their decisions, while the government bodies within the county are waiting to see what the county enacts first.
There are six kinds of businesses that could become possible as of January 1, including dispensaries, craft brewers, cultivation centers, infusers, processors and transporters. Bierman said the use of cannabis in dispensaries and in the home will remain legal even if the county should opt out at this time.
Counties are to enact ordination either opting in or opting out of the allowance of recreational marijuana businesses within its borders.
“Are you willing or wanting to see any of these six, all of these six or none of these six,” Bierman said. “Here is your chance to voice your opinion on how you feel.”
The first residents to speak were largely against the allowance of cannabis business within Washington County, citing concern over the additional need for police as a result.
“Not everyone who smokes pot wants to eat Twinkies and go to sleep,” one resident said.
Bierman said more is spent in combating public health issues than what is generated through the municipal taxes. He referred to one study found that for every dollar earned in tax monies, counties are spending $4.50 in areas such as police enforcement and hospitalizations.
“It is encouraging to see so many people come out,” said Dennis Trask, a representative for the Southern Illinois Substance Abuse Alliance. “It is our stance that we are asking communities to opt out.”
While Trask said that the numbers from Colorado show an increase in public health costs, he added that there is no comparable data coming from other states that could be used to determine what might happen here in Washington County.
Bierman added other research has also proven to be “too soon to tell.”
“Five years is just not enough time,” he said.
Nashville Mayor Erik Rolf said should the city decide to opt in and initiate a tax that the local government would receive revenue similarly to a sales tax.
With the restrictions on the number of dispensaries that will be permitted after January and given the likelihood of a larger marijuana business wanting to set up shop in Washington County, Zoning Chair Vic Shubert said it has been suggested that the county wait to opt in after seeing what happens in other surrounding communities.
“A rural populated county like ours with small towns, it is very unlikely that anyone who is looking at large capacity businesses is going to come into our town,” Shubert said. “Personally I would say opt out and watch it. If it gets common and widespread and some county business wants to start a dispensary, we can see where it is going and if it is profitable or not.”
Joe Kemper of Richview said he remains neutral to whether marijuna-related businesses should be allowed in Washington County but in an effort to play “devil’s advocate,” he said he would hope the elected officials would keep an open mind to what might be beneficial for the county in the long run.
“Those counties and villages that accept are going to lead,” Kemper said. “And I do believe as the years go by they are going to be the frontrunners with wealth because if the government can figure out how to regulate this, they are going to be putting money in their pockets. We have seen that time and time again.”
A straw poll of those attending the meeting found that 12 people would prefer if the county opted out of allowing cannabis-related businesses while 8 individuals were in favor of allowing the businesses. The large majority of the attendance remained neutral.
The zoning committee will meet later this month to draft a recommendation for the full board to vote. The recommendation is expected to go before the Washington County Board at its December meeting.