by Kyle Herschelman
For about 10 seconds, it seemed as if, the city of Litchfield would have the first adult use marijuana dispensary in Montgomery County. Then they didn’t.
A motion to amend a city ordinance and set guidelines that would allow for retail sale of adult use marijuana, which became legal in Illinois on Jan. 1, saw a split vote by the council, with council members David Hollo, Woody Street and Marilyn Sisson voting against the measure and Kassidy Payne, Tim Wright, Mark Brown, Dwayne Gerl and Ray Kellenberger voting for it.
After the announcement that the vote was 5-3 for the amendment, Alderman Hollo cited a city ordinance stating that a two-thirds majority vote needed to be secured for amendments where 20 percent of the adjacent property owners objected to the amendment.
Hollo said that the city had received two letters of objection from Peter Drummond and the owner of the laundromat across the street from The Greenhouse, the medical marijuana facility that was hoping to add adult use sales, which constituted the necessary 20 percent.
City Attorney Kit Hantla would check the ordinance and agreed with Hollo that a two-thirds vote was needed if the two letters did constitute 20 percent of the property owners.
Prior to the vote, several members of the community weighed in on their thoughts regarding allowing the sale of adult use marijuana in Litchfield. In a letter, Richard Dodson stated he was against the proposal, citing an increase in traffic deaths due to marijuana. Dodson also said that just because other municipalities may be allowing the sale, it does not mean it is the right thing to do.
Peter Drummond also spoke out against the proposal. Drummond, whose law office is next door to The Greenhouse medical marijuana dispensary, says that parking is already an issue and he believed it would impact his business and others negatively. He stated he hoped adult use sale would not be approved, but if it was, the store be located further away from businesses.
Barbara Schmidt, speaking for herself and her husband Earl, asked the city to not let dollar signs sway them. She said most people do not want this in their town and that marijuana could bring undesirable people to their community and lead to use of stronger drugs.
Ron Norris, chairman of the Litchfield Economic Development Commission and member of the planning commission, spoke in favor of the proposal, saying it was supported by both groups as well as well as several individuals and businesses. Norris said that adult use marijuana sales is coming to the area regardless and he felt like it would be in Litchfield’s best interest to be the municipality that controls it.
Jim Timpe, CEO of St. Francis Hospital, also spoke in favor of the proposal, saying that he was not speaking on behalf of HSHS Health Systems though. Timpe said that one of the greatest benefits is that the price of medical marijuana would come down significantly and many who used the adult use marijuana would be those who may not be able to afford medical marijuana. He added that the hospital has not seen an overdose of marijuana, but continues to have significant issues with other drugs such as methamphetamine.
Timpe also addressed Schmidt’s concern over marijuana leading to use of stronger drugs, saying that no study had ever proved that notion.
The final person to speak during the hearing was Matt Darin, who is one of the owners of The Greenhouse and the cultivation facility located in Litchfield. Darin said that the two facilities have operated for approximately three years without incident and employ close to 100 people, with plans to hire more. He added that Illinois’ adult use program is one of the most heavily regulated in the country.
Darin said that residents of Montgomery County and the area are already purchasing adult use marijuana, traveling to Collinsville and Springfield to do so. He said that his company has made a huge financial investment in Litchfield, would like to continue to do so and would not do anything that would affect their reputation as reputable, professional business people.
Mayor Steve Dougherty and the aldermen had a few questions for Darin after he spoke. Dougherty asked first about the potential parking issues Drummond mentioned earlier. Darin said that this was the first he had heard of the concerns, but the company was already working on ways to manage the flow of people, due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
Darin said that they are currently having customers set up slotted times to regulate the number of people at the facility at one time and would be glad to look at additional parking. He also said that he believed the Litchfield location would not have the overwhelming volume that the Collinsville location did, due to it being in a smaller community instead of right outside of St. Louis.
Alderman Street asked about the odor coming from the cultivation facility. Darin said that they have made upgrades to the HVAC system and were looking into other measures. He added that he had not heard complaints from any of the cultivation facility’s nearby neighbors.
Street also asked if Darin was a citizen of Litchfield. Darin said he was from Chicago, but did spend a lot of time in Litchfield when checking on his company’s two businesses.
Alderman Hollo said that he had heard that the company had been sold to a Canadian company. Darin said that was not true and the ownership was primarily based in Illinois.
There was some discussion before the final vote, with Hollo saying that it felt like the ordinance for the dispensary was handcrafted to allow The Greenhouse to serve as that site. He said that in every other category of business, the distance from a school was 1,500 feet, but for the dispensary it was 1,000 feet. Russell School, according to Hollo, is closer than 1,500 feet, but further away than 1,000 from The Greenhouse.
Hollo also expressed concern over parking, saying that should be addressed before a motion is passed.
Alderman Street asked if The Greenhouse purchased property for a parking lot that was closer than 1,000 feet to a school, if the facility would then be violating the ordinance. Both City Attorney Kit Hantla and Building Inspector Gary Baker said the rule was meant for the point of sale, not the parking lot.
Baker also said that the city’s ordinance calls for one parking spot per 250 square feet of a building. Hollo said he believed that different businesses, like The Greenhouse, would require more spaces.
After the vote failed, the rest of the meeting moved quickly, with motions to establish a cannabis sales license and to establish a three percent municipal cannabis retailers occupation tax both pulled.
Nine other motions passed unanimously with little discussion. These motions included changing the property owned by Farmers Grain on West Tyler from single family residence to general commercial for purposes of a grain storage bin facility, presentation of a conditional offer for a vacancy in the Litchfield Police Department, awarding of water treatment chemical contracts, extension of the 2020 camping season at Lake Lou Yaeger through Dec. 1, 2020, approval of a real estate agreement between the city and Mr. and Mrs. Brad Bowles for land associated with the IEPA Section 319 project, approval of a 45-day grace period for the flex spending plan through TASC allowing expenses until June 14, 2020, and approval of a resolution for maintenance of streets and highways by municipality, a municipal estimate of maintenance costs and maintenance engineering.
The council also adopted the annual budget and revised the FY2020 budget. Before the meeting, a special hearing was held regarding the budget with no discussion held. Mayor Dougherty did say during the hearing that the COVID-19 pandemic will cause many changes to the city’s budget though, and the affects will probably be felt for at least three years.