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River Forest not sold on selling cannabis

Zoning board hearing set for October

September 10th, 2019 1:41 PM

By ROBERT J. LIFKA

Contributing Reporter

The possibility of legalized sales of recreational cannabis in River Forest continued to move slowly forward Sept. 9 when the village board voted to direct staff members to take steps toward proposing an amendment to the zoning ordinance.

The 5-0 vote was taken at the regular village board meeting that followed a committee of the whole meeting at which 11 residents provided input on the question. Trustee Tom Cargie did not attend either meeting.

Although the village board supported moving forward with the process, no trustee openly addressed the ultimate issue of allowing recreational cannabis business establishments in the village.

Trustee Bob O'Connell noted the action "doesn't commit us to anything," while Trustee Patty Henek referred to "starting with the framework" and Trustee Katie Brennan stated a desire to "move forward for further discussion."

Only six of the residents who spoke at the committee of the whole meeting stated an opinion on allowing cannabis business establishments with four opposing and two supporting. 

Two of the other speakers had questions for police Chief Jim O'Shea and three advised the village board to study the issue thoroughly and move forward cautiously. Several even suggested delaying a decision until after other municipalities have legalized cannabis business establishments or "let other communities experiment," as Robert Zeh said.  

The next step in the process will be a public hearing at the zoning board of appeals meeting on Thursday Oct. 10.

In response to a question from Ellen Liebner, O'Shea acknowledged that police do not have a test similar to a breathalyzer to determine if a driver's impairment is caused by marijuana. However, he noted that efforts are underway to identify such a test, including in Carol Stream.

Responding to a question from Mary Ann Zeh, O'Shea said no state or county law currently exists that would allow prosecution of parents who host a party for underage youths where marijuana was being used similar to laws addressing parties for underage youth where alcohol was served. However, he noted the village would have the opportunity to approve such a local ordinance. 

In opposing allowing cannabis business establishments, Liita Forsyth said she "does not see anything good coming out of it." Barb Lehner, who identified herself as a bicyclist, said she did not want to see "any more reasons for impaired drivers to run me off the road."

Ingrid Liu, who identified herself as an Oak Park physician, urged the village board to "make a decision on facts, not fear." She also said she believes alcohol is a "far more dangerous and destructive substance" than marijuana.

In response to comments from Carolyn Kilbride citing outcomes in Colorado after that state legalized recreational marijuana, village President Cathy Adduci cautioned against comparing legislation in Illinois to that in Colorado, noting the Illinois legislation is more restrictive.   

Addressing concerns expressed regarding the potential number of cannabis business establishments in the village, Lisa Scheiner, assistant village administrator, said only 47 licenses will be issued in River Forest's region, which includes Chicago and extends as far west as Elgin.

Village Administrator Eric Palm addressed concerns expressed regarding potential traffic and parking problems associated with cannabis business establishments by noting that each applicant would be required to apply for a special use variation. Not only would the application trigger traffic and parking studies, he said, but it also would require a public hearing, at which neighbors would be able to share their concerns.

Issues to be discussed at the Oct. 10 zoning board meeting will include allowing cannabis dispensaries and craft growers operating as a special use in the C1, C2, C3 and ORIC Zoning Districts; prohibiting cannabis cultivation centers, processing organizations and transporting organizations operating in the C1, C2, C3 and ORIC Zoning Districts; allowing medical cannabis dispensaries as a special use in the C1, C2, C3, and ORIC Zoning Districts; allowing medical cannabis cultivation centers as a special use in the  C1, C2, C3, and ORIC Zoning Districts; and prohibiting consumption of cannabis on the premises of any cannabis business establishment.

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