The La Salle County Board voted 20-7 to prohibit recreational marijuana businesses from operating in unincorporated areas of La Salle County.
Cities still will be allowed to have marijuana businesses within their boundaries but cultivators, growers, infusers and dispensaries will not be allowed to operate in unincorporated county lands.
This ordinance will not affect the dispensary in Ottawa, which operates within the city’s limits.
Board Member Tom Walsh, D-Ottawa, suggested a motion to create an advisory referendum that La Salle County residents would have to vote on during the November election.
“Make a decision today!” said Board Member Jerry Myers, R-Streator, raising his voice. “Stop kicking it down the road! I’m voting ‘yes’ (on prohibition) … If you would have told me one day that I’d be on a legislative body to OK cannabis and its use, I’d say you’re nuts. How is this a good thing to do?”
Myers was the most passionate of those in favor of prohibition and other county board members followed with reasons to be against allowing marijuana businesses in the county.
Board Member Mike Kasap, D-La Salle, said the capitalist in him makes it difficult to vote against allowing somebody trying to achieve wealth inside the confines of the new law.
“ ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ ” Kasap said. “That was Dickens, right? Look, we don’t have to be in favor of this, but if someone has the bucks and wants to get involved in recreational sales, he can do just that. As we go through the appeals process, we can put any special permissions on this.”
Kasap said the prohibition seems too similar to the temperance movement.
“We all know how that worked out,” Kasap said.
Board Member Joseph Witczak, D-Peru, pointed out the county already regulates what businesses can act in what zoning districts, so marijuana regulation would fall under a similar jurisdiction.
Board Member Randy Freeman, R-Lostant, voted against the prohibition, saying the decision to legalize has already been made for the County Board and playing the “morality police” isn’t why they’re there.
“If we want to sit here and look at our youth, there’s a lot of kids out there smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol,” Freeman said. “We have too many other moral issues around here for that to be our reasoning. We have (cannabis), it’s here, and people are going to use it. It’s going to be here. It’s going to be out in our county.”
The prohibition of marijuana businesses does not prevent La Salle County residents from purchasing at any dispensary, such as the Verilife dispensary in Ottawa, or from possessing the drug. It also does not prevent municipalities in the county from participating in recreational marijuana businesses.
No businesses have inquired about opening in unincorporated La Salle County.
La Salle County still will collect its 3% tax on marijuana sales within the county.