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Joliet residents speak for and against marijuana sales

Plan commission postpones zoning decision, will soon get a workshop session

A sign-in sheet for cannabis public comment can be seen Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019,during a Joliet Planning Commission hearing in Joliet, Ill.
A sign-in sheet for cannabis public comment can be seen Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019,during a Joliet Planning Commission hearing in Joliet, Ill.

Surrounding towns are banning the sale of recreational marijuana, and that’s a reason for Joliet to ban it or to allow it – depending on who spoke at a public hearing last week.

The Plan Commission hearing on zoning rules for marijuana sales drew seven speakers, four of whom were for the sale of recreational marijuana and three of whom were against.

Supporters included Pete McLenighan, former executive director of Stepping Stones Treatment Center for people with drug and alcohol problems.

“I believe it’s an opportunity for the city to discourage the black market,” McLenighan said, adding that the city could use tax dollars from marijuana sales to help combat drug abuse.

The hearing was held Thursday while the commission put off a decision until it gets a workshop session on a zoning proposal for marijuana sales.

Joliet appears on the verge of allowing recreational marijuana sales, although a 5-4 City Council vote authorizing staff to move forward with a zoning plan left room for the opt-out option before use becomes legal Jan. 1.

Several surrounding towns have passed opt-out ordinances banning sales, an option allowed by the state law that nevertheless allows marijuana use throughout Illinois.

Speakers on both sides of the issue cited the surrounding bans on sales as reasons for or against Joliet taking the opt-out course.

“Why is every surrounding town saying no to these type of establishments?” Mary Beth Gannon asked.

“They can foresee the problems it’s going to have,” Kathy Spieler said.

Gannon and Spieler said they believe sales of marijuana will lead to more drug-related problems, including addictions, crime, traffic accidents and panhandling.

Quinn Adamowski, president of the Cathedral Area Preservation Association, said towns opting out are doing so “because of a misinformation campaign about cannabis that has been going on for over 100 years.”

Adamowski said Joliet has “tremendous opportunity” because neighbors are banning sales.

“I would encourage you to do exactly the opposite of what other municipalities have been doing,” he told the commission.

The proposed zoning rules would allow special use permits for marijuana sales in business and industrial districts while also setting distance barriers for homes and schools.

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