Council Votes to Opt Out, but Calls For Referendum on Marijuana

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Naperville City Council voted to opt out of the retail sale of adult-use cannabis. When recreational marijuana becomes legal statewide on January 1, Naperville will not allow any recreational dispensaries to operate within the city limits.

Record Attendance

A record number of speakers signed up to voice their opinion at the meeting – the official number was 238 – most in favor of opting out.

“When we choose to allow the sale of recreational marijuana in Naperville, we accept the risks of the increase in use of marijuana. Some think the only people affected by the spread of marijuana are those who already use it,” said 16-year-old Naperville resident William Ma. “But the sad reality is increased access to marijuana also increases the likelihood that it ends up in the wrong hands. Specifically the hands of the youth.”

However, not everyone shared that sentiment, arguing that marijuana is already here, and opting in would weaken the black market and give the city more regulation.

“I agree with all of my ‘opt out’ friends and neighbors that the children [are] the biggest issue here,” said Naperville resident Dan Allen. “So I would ask my friends and neighbors and this council, ‘how do kids get access to cannabis?’ Through the black market. The Naperville black market will continue to thrive with a ‘no vote.’ A ‘yes’ vote means that drug dealers will have to go outside of Naperville to sell cannabis and other more dangerous drugs due to the low demand here.”

A Divided Audience

Public discourse has escalated over the past few months from both sides of the debate, which at times, reached a heated tone.

“This is a divisive issue,” said Councilman John Krummen. “And the city has gone through enough divisive issues, whether it’s the 5th Avenue train station, whether it’s the recent election. So my point is the culture needs to heal. We need to come together.”

Proposed Referendum

Some speakers said giving everyone a chance to weigh in via a citywide referendum would make residents feel more heard – an opinion shared by many on the dais.

“It’s obvious this is a very important issue for many of our residents and they want their voices heard,” said Councilwoman Theresa Sullivan. “This is exactly the type of issue – it’s new, it’s controversial, it’s time-sensitive, and it has major implications for our city – this is the type of issue that our voters could and should decide via referendum.”

Council directed city staff to begin researching a non-binding referendum, which could be placed on ballots as early as the next election in March 2020 or the following presidential election cycle in November 2020, when turnout is usually highest.

Until, and if, that referendum occurs, Naperville will hold its opt out position.

Naperville News 17’s Casey Krajewski reports.