ADDISON – When Addison Mayor Rich Veenstra mentioned the village’s efforts to discourage medical marijuana’s presence in town during his State of the Village address two weeks ago, some questions arose.
“Are [medical marijuana shops] associated with any hospitals or are they independent operations?” Addison Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Patty Zachacki asked.
Veenstra explained the marijuana dispensaries would be independent operations. Illinois’ medical marijuana law has been called the strictest of any of the other 19 states and Washington D.C. which have legalized the drug for medical purposes, but many western suburbs like Addison, Wheaton, Downers Grove and others have taken action to limit where dispensaries would be allowed through zoning changes.
“They are now restricted to our industrial zone,” Veenstra said. “That is not a desirable location for opening businesses. Hopefully that will disincentive merchants from coming in.”
Assistant Village Manager John Berley explained the village board’s approval Oct. 21 to limit medical marijuana businesses to a specified zone is not unprecedented. In the past, the board has limited other businesses to the village’s M2 General Manufacturing District. Payday loan offices, pawn shops, title loan companies cash for gold businesses, day labor sites and adult entertainment stores have all been limited to areas zoned M2 over the years.
“For varying reasons those are all [businesses] that can cause trouble,” Berley said.
The village’s M2 zones usually contain warehouses and factories. The business parks along Fullerton Avenue fall into the M2 zone.
Many newer business parks like the one near Swift Road and Lake Street where Dave and Buster’s is zoned M4, which would not allow marijuana dispensaries or cultivation centers.
“We changed our zoning when we saw this coming,” Berley said.
While the board cannot ban businesses allowed by the state, Berley explained that the board has limited them to “undesirable locations,” to discourage them. He also said no dispensaries have expressed interest in opening up in Addison. Of the businesses limited to M2, Berley recalls only a few day labor sites opening up, but all but one has closed.
“We’re way ahead of the game,” Berley said.
Officer Chris Weinbrenner of the Addison Police Department explained that Illinois’ law allowing medical marijuana presents a challenge for law enforcement because it is so new.
“When we do DUI enforcement we refer to case law,” Weinbrenner said.
Because the law is brand new in Illinois, there is no case law established for medical marijuana. Weinbrenner used the example of a “legally high” person crashing into another car causing the other driver injury or even death.
“It’s going to develop as it goes through the court system,” Weinbrenner said.
He did say that Addison police have attended classes to determine sobriety as it relates to marijuana and other drugs.
“There definitely are things that we are trained as police officers to look for,” Weinbrenner said.
Although breathalyzers aren’t used like they are for alcohol sobriety tests, some officers called drug recognition experts are trained to determine if a driver has been using marijuana or other drugs. Weinbrenner said that training is now extending to patrol officers.
“Federally it’s still illegal,” Weinbrenner said, explaining that federally insured banks wouldn’t want to possibly face drug trafficking charges by giving accounts to dispensaries.
That would limit medical marijuana to a cash only business, which Weinbrenner pointed out creates a target for crime.
Both Berley and Weinbrenner said the effects of the law have yet to be seen, but the village is doing it’s best to limit any negative possibilities.
“It’s something we’re going to have to watch,” Weinbrenner said.