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Pot talk: Peoria City Council considering changes to cannabis regulations

Using chemicals to control bugs or mold is common among commercial cannabis growers. But with no federal oversight, experts are concerned growers may be using dangerous pesticides.
Ted S. Warren
Using chemicals to control bugs or mold is common among commercial cannabis growers. But with no federal oversight, experts are concerned growers may be using dangerous pesticides.

The Peoria City Council is taking another look at the use of recreational cannabis and regulation of cannabis dispensaries in the city.

That was the goal of a special policy session held Tuesday ahead of the council's regular meeting. Objectives of the meeting were to give an overview of policies the council made in 2019 on the selling and consumption of medical and recreational marijuana, to discuss where the city currently is at in terms of consumption, and to consider whether or not any of the city’s policies should be revisited and amended.

Although the state has legalized recreational marijuana usage, local governments still maintain the power to regulate the operation and on-site consumption at cannabis-selling businesses.

In 2019, the council made a number of policy decisions regarding zoning restrictions, on-site consumption, and how cannabis-based businesses are to operate within the city.

The four main questions discussed around the horseshoe Tuesday were whether the council should prohibit or limit recreational cannabis, add further zoning regulations or distance limitations, address on-site consumption regulations, or amend existing ordinances to address social equity applicants.

Currently, there are two licensed dispensaries residing in Peoria County. Trinity Compassionate Care Center runs two locations — one for recreational use on West Glen, and one for both recreational and medical use on North University.

Additionally, there are three special use permits being currently issued to LLCs in the city. A business license is required to open a dispensary, but is not required for a special use permit.

At present, there are no on-site consumption facilities in Peoria. When policies were being made in 2019, the council felt it did not have enough information about how the facilities operate in order to make a decision on whether they were allowed, so the policy was placed on reserve. Now that the market has had a couple of years to stabilize, the council is considering reopening conversation about on-site consumption.

At the meeting, there were council members on both sides of the issue regarding whether to pursue more regulations on recreational marijuana usage in the city. Council member Andre Allen advised against implementing too many regulations into a market that is still developing.

“I want us to be very careful of what guardrails we’re looking to put around this industry that is still just so new to us,” he said.

In regard to on-site consumption facilities, Allen made the argument they should be permitted because the city is dealing with a substance that is legal to purchase and legal to consume, yet property owners and landlords are still given the right to deny use of the substance on private property.

“Consumers are having to find other places to do it, that’s when you start getting the complaints of consuming in public…I’m not sold on the idea of on-site consumption, but my mind is opened up to it…(because) you are able to legally purchase this product, but then you’re still having to find back-door alleys to consume it, and I think that that is something we need to consider,” Allen said.

Council member Chuck Grayeb spoke out against lax restrictions and instead advocated for implementing stricter policies, pointing out there may be health risks of marijuana consumption that we may still be unaware of, such as cancer, and how those risks may disproportionately affect lower-income communities in Peoria.

“That is why I have absolutely no heartburn tightening the circle around the number of dispensaries that we are going to allow in our city," he said.

Grayeb called for the council to consider placing a moratorium on any future dispensaries in Peoria, which would place a mandatory pause on business activity.

The council concluded the meeting with a discussion on how to best go about receiving public opinion on the issue. Each of the policies will continue to be discussed by the council in the near future.

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