Niles residents concerned about pot sales
by KEVIN GROSS
Some residents expressed concerns about permitting recreational cannabis businesses in the Village of Niles at a public hearing on Aug. 22 at Niles Village Hall, 1000 Civic Center Drive.
"When I think of Niles, I think of our values. What are our values? Is ‘values’ spelled with a dollar sign at the end?" former Niles trustee Rosemary Palicki said. She suggested examining the effects of recreational cannabis businesses in other communities first before allowing sales in the village.
Under the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, all Illinois residents will have the right to smoke or consume cannabis in their homes regardless of their municipality’s stance on the issue. Landlords may legally choose to ban cannabis use by renters on their property, employers may still ban cannabis from the workplace or subject employees to drug testing, and consumption of cannabis while driving or in public areas such as parks or sidewalks will remain illegal.
Under the law, local municipalities can ban, limit as a special use or permit with "reasonable" restrictions any cannabis businesses within their borders, often with buffer zones between cannabis businesses and community spaces such as parks. State Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-14), a co-sponsor of the legalization bill, said in a June interview that legislators wanted to leave such decisions to local governments.
"That (zoning) is a local government thing. That’s totally local government … That’s really why we put more power in the hands of local government, to make those decisions about distances and things like that, because there’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution to that," she said. "250 feet (of buffer zones) in Chicago is different than 250 feet in Decatur."
The Niles proposal would restrict cannabis cultivators, infusers, processing facilities and transportation facilities as a special use, essentially limited to four sites in southeast Niles due to that area being the village’s only manufacturing-zoned area and due to 1,500-foot restrictions between cannabis businesses and schools, educational facilities, day cares, parks or religious facilities.
One possible site is located northwest of the intersection at Jarvis and Central avenues, near the Walmart store, 5630 W. Touhy Ave., and the other three possible parcels of property are along North Merrimac Avenue between Howard and Mulford streets.
Cannabis dispensaries and smaller-scale craft growers in Niles would be limited by a 1,000-foot buffer between educational and day care facilities, or a 500-foot buffer from parks or religious sites. Niles village manager Steven Vinezeano said that as of now the Niles proposal would permit such businesses without a special use.
Due to the less strict restrictions, dispensaries or craft growers could locate primarily around the industrial and business park in southeast Niles or near the Golf Mill Shopping Center in northwest Niles, with a few additional sites scattered along Milwaukee, Dempster, Oakton and Touhy avenues.
"I definitely agree (with former trustee Palicki), perhaps we could take a year, look at perhaps Lincolnwood and Skokie, and figure out what their best practices were," one resident said. "But will we be behind the ball, and do we care?"
Jim Hynes, a former Niles trustee and park district member, said that legal cannabis sales in Niles could increase the burden on first responders, hospitals or schools due to possible increases in DUI’s, hospital admissions or contraband confiscations from students. "Will the extra (sales tax) cash be given to schools or hospitals? No, nor should they," he said. "But don’t do the money grab, that’s all this is."
Niles resident Sean Phillips, cited figures from Oxgard, Calif., a town boasting a "green mile" of clustered cannabis businesses that found the businesses contributed more than $500,000 in tax revenues, and that cannabis businesses may increase local property values. Regarding crime he said that legalization doesn’t increase teenage cannabis use, citing a California survey that found cannabis usage among seventh graders fell by 47 percent from 2013 to 2017, and he cited a Colorado Division of Criminal Justice study that found DUI cases overall dropped 15 percent from 2014 to 2017.
"The only unanswered question is, will Niles participate now or will we watch as our neighbors bring in the revenue as we wait to join the game, if at all?" he said as one of the measure’s few supporters among the 35 people who attended.
Trustee Denise McCreery said that residents seemed "evenly split" on supporting or opposing the possibility of cannabis sales in Niles, and that she herself is "on-the-fence" on the issue.
"What do I say to my kid when we drive up to the Village of Niles and see a dispensary, does that mean I’m supporting it?" Vinezeano said after the hearing. "It becomes a cultural thing about how society views and uses it (cannabis) or not."
In related news, the Lincolnwood Village Board of Trustees recently discussed its own cannabis business proposal, which would permit one recreational cannabis businesses via special use.
Lincolnwood mayor Barry Bass and some trustees pushed for the cap at a prior board meeting over staff’s objections that permitting it as a special use could serve as sufficient vetting for cannabis businesses. Lincolnwood planned to vote on the measure at its meeting on Sept. 3.
"You’re not going to get a high-end operation to come to a small 3.2 square mile village if they know there’s some other guy operating in town," Bass said.