Highwood, Illinois tackles medical marijuana ordinance

ILLINOIS: Medical marijuana may ease the pain for some North Shore residents with chronic health conditions, but it’s giving Highwood officials administrative headaches.

Count Highwood among the many Chicagoland communities, including Highland Park and Deerfield, working on zoning ordinances after Gov. Pat Quinn signed medical marijuana into law Aug. 1. At a recent meeting, Highwood plan commissioners grappled with a draft ordinance that would comply with state law while also ensuring some measure of local control against any potentially negative impact of medical marijuana dispensaries or grow centers.

Ultimately, they decided to continue the discussion after more closely examining state law and consulting with the city attorney, who was not present. A public hearing will be held before the matter goes before the City Council, said interim Chairwoman Debbie Koenitz.

“What other North Shore community doesn’t have the funds to keep them out? It’s us. We don’t have that extra money. …We need to protect our citizens,” said Plan Commissioner Lisa Cervac.

As per the new state law, up to 22 regulated cultivation centers will exist, growing pot for up to 60 new dispensaries throughout the state. Grow centers must be at least 2,500 feet from schools, day-care centers and residentially zoned areas. Dispensaries must be 1,000 feet from schools and day-care centers and not located in residential areas.

Qualifying patients with ID cards and medical conditions specified in the law — including HIV/AIDS, cancer, hepatitis C, glaucoma, traumatic brain injuries and others — will be able to obtain up to 2.5 ounces every two weeks.

Commissioner Ferguson Mills pondered whether it was potentially a moot point.

“There’s no place in town that’s not within 1,000 feet of a residence or within 2,500 feet of a school,” he said.

While others agreed that the grow centers were particularly unlikely, there was more discussion on dispensaries. There were questions about whether the city could charge for permitting beyond administrative costs and if landlords who allow qualified tenants to smoke medical pot could be required to have separate exhaust systems, so as to not affect other tenants.

But most of the concerns about the possibility of a dispensary in Highwood centered on the potential for illegal activity.

“This is going to make someone a lot of money,” Cervac said. “You don’t know what $10-an-hour employee a place is going to hire who will sell it out the back door to his friends.”


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