MAHOMET — The Village of Mahomet Board of Trustees wanted to hear from residents Tuesday about adult-use recreational marijuana, which becomes legal in Illinois on Jan. 1, and dozens of chairs at the village administration where the board meets were ready to be filled by people weighing in on the topic.
Only one member of the public appeared.
“I’m surprised that no one’s here,” said Vicki Cook, a Mahomet-Seymour High School graduate and former village board member. “I don’t feel one way or the other. I’m just curious.”
Patrick Brown, village administrator, said, “Our hope tonight was to have public comments. Most communities have had a study session for the public to come in and tell you all what they think.
“It obviously, based on tonight, doesn’t seem as controversial (in Mahomet),” he added.
Trustees discussed the topic anyway.
Village attorney Joe Chamley noted that recreational use of marijuana for adults age 21 and older will be legal come Jan. 1. Adults will be able to smoke marijuana within the confines of their own homes regardless of village action or inaction. The issues for the board to address would be whether to allow its sale in Mahomet, whether to tax such sales if they are allowed and zoning related topics — whether and how to regulate the location of any proposed businesses that sell marijuana.
“Basically, the cannabis law deals with cannabis regulation and ... taxes,” Brown said.
The board’s meeting packet included extensive information on the topic and can be found on the village’s website at mahomet.govoffice.com.
Communities can tax cannabis sales up to 3 percent, Brown explained.
The state is allowing medical cannabis dispensaries to be the first to sell marijuana for recreational use. It will be May 2020 before new licenses to sell cannabis in Illinois will be allowed, village leaders noted, and none are expected to locate anytime soon in Mahomet. So while trustees noted “no urgency” in the village dealing with the issue, necessarily, they also said they want to be proactive on the topic.
“Is there an urgency to get the tax passed, like some communities were jumping all over it? No, there isn’t urgency to do that,” Brown said.
According to the new state law, current regulations prohibiting the smoking of tobacco in public places will apply to marijuana. The village will have say on any proposed businesses that might want to allow smoking of cannabis inside their doors.
“One, you decide if you’re going to allow the sales shop. And two, if you do allow the sales shop, whether you allow that sales shop to open up a — my words — ‘smoking room’ for that in the shop. That’s up to you,” Chamley told trustees.
Village President Sean Widener said he doesn’t think recreational use marijuana within village limits is an issue appropriate for a referendum. He noted that in the board’s meeting packet were sample ordinances that the village could use to tax cannabis sales or otherwise regulate marijuana — or the board could do nothing on the topic at this time.
He asked trustees whether they want to continue the overall discussion on the matter or ask village staff to begin work on potential ordinances or work such as zoning proposals to regulate where any future marijuana dispensaries might be able to located in Mahomet.
“Certainly, from a board member’s perspective, you have all the information in front of you,” he said. “It’s unfortuante we don’t have public comments other than Vicki’s comments but ... what do you guys want to do?”
Trustee Andy Harpst compared legal cannabis to legal use of tobacco and alcohol.
“To me this is now no different because the state is making the rule ... so why not capture some revenue off of that?” Harpst said.
Trustee Brian Metzger took a different viewpoint.
“I’m a little bit the opposite,” he said. “I’ve had a conversations with a number of people starting in the spring. It’s been about 50/50 (for or against cannabis sales in Mahomet). I guess right now I’m more leaning toward let’s wait and see because if we’re not going to have these pop up ... there’s not going to be three of them pop up in Mahomet.
“The odds are we’re going to be lucky to have one,” Metzger added. “So what’s the point of going down that path, in my opinion, right now, when it’s going to be (a small chance) that we’re going to get one anyway, so why even go down that path right now until more data’s out there for us to bring in?”
Trustee David Johnson was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. Trustee Donald Lynn echoed some of Metzger’s comments.
“I just think we need to let it lay for a little bit and see where it’s going,” Lynn said.
Trustee Bill Oliger expressed neutrality but said, “I’m 50/50. If you pressed me today, I would say I would be OK with (starting regulations for) it.”
Trustee Bruce Colravy then said, “That’s pretty much how I feel at this point.
“I wish it wasn’t a question before us, but it is. So it’s something we need to deal with,” he added. “I would still like to have some time to get people’s opinions because I kind of sense that it is the way everybody else expressed: a 50/50 (split).”
Widener said he is essentially neutral on the issue but doesn’t want the village to be surprised by the issue of a potential cannabis-related business locating in Mahomet.
“We’re in no hurry,” he said. “We’re not rushing through this to try to beat some (deadline).
“I will say I don’t want to put us in a position where we are reacting to something,” Widener said. “Let’s be proactive.”
In the end, trustees agreed informally to again seek public input at their November study session and further discuss the issue themselves at that time as well.