With two trustees dissenting, the New Lenox Village Board on Monday night put a months-long debate to rest with a vote to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana businesses in town.
Mayor Tim Baldermann and four trustees voted in favor of an ordinance to prohibit recreational marijuana dispensaries and other related businesses from opening shop in New Lenox. Trustees Keith Madsen and Jasen Howard voted against the opt out.
Village Hall was packed with residents, and the vote was preceded by comments from 29 people. Those in favor of allowing a dispensary in town slightly edged out those against – 16 to 13.
Among the residents who spoke out against allowing distribution of recreational pot in town was Tony Bartolomucci. He and his wife, Kim, lost their 21-year-old son to a drug overdose a few years ago.
“It started with marijuana after his eighth-grade year. … We’re sending a message to the youth that it’s not a problem, [marijuana] is not a gateway drug,” Bartolomucci said. “It is a gateway drug.”
Kim Bartolomucci said after the vote that she was “grateful” the village had decided to opt out.
“Our lives were devastated by the loss of our son,” she said.
Eddie Gal was interested in opening a dispensary in town. He told the board he wanted them to allow the decision to go to the public in a referendum vote.
“The freedom of people starting legal, successful businesses is what this country was built on,” Gal said. “Taking away and restricting those same freedoms is un-American.”
Gal told the board that he was waiting for Will County to decide and had negotiated an unincorporated piece of property in New Lenox “just in case.”
Baldermann reiterated his previous sentiments that while he respected the opinions of residents on both sides of the debate, it was best for the village to opt out for now.
He said that Illinois continues to sort out – in a possible trailer bill – all “the unanswered questions” that remain with its new Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which legalizes recreational marijuana starting
“Whether or not I felt like this was beneficial for our community … I don’t know why I would want to be in a hurry to jump into something when the state itself has said ‘Yeah, we passed the law, and we know there are a lot of unanswered questions – we’ll get to that later,’ ” Baldermann said. “I’d rather wait for later.”
Trustee Dave Smith said he wanted to opt out because “it’s simple – I don’t trust the state.”
Trustee Annette Bowden said she and other residents who had contacted board members were trying to grapple with the legalization of the drug. “[We] don’t understand how something that was so illegal and so harmful all of a sudden should become legal,” she said. “It’s a hard pill to swallow.”
Madsen said that he feared that with a vote by Will County still pending, a recreational marijuana dispensary could open in an unincorporated area near town and that by opting out, the village would lose control over its regulation.
Howard said after the meeting that he agreed with Madsen, and his vote “came down to my belief in what this country is founded on, which is freedom of personal choice.”
Medicinal marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers are not included in the prohibition, as the village has allowed them after they were legalized in Illinois in 2014. However, no dispensary has come to the village.
The board’s action only prohibits cultivation and distribution of the drug for recreational purposes in New Lenox. It cannot restrict the possession and private use of the drug.