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Local News

New Lenox residents still split over recreational pot sales

New Lenox residents’ remarks on whether the village should allow recreational marijuana sales in town were evenly split again at Monday night’s Village Board meeting.

An ordinance prohibiting recreational marijuana businesses in New Lenox was on the board’s agenda for discussion only. Village trustees will vote on the ordinance at their next meeting Nov. 11.

Residents will be allowed to speak before the vote at that meeting as well, Mayor Tim Baldermann said.

With Illinois’ legalization of recreational marijuana taking effect Jan. 1, local municipalities cannot restrict the possession and private use of the drug. However, they can opt out of allowing its production and sale locally.

While it was not the packed room trustees saw at the public hearing last week, about 60 people were in attendance as residents got to weigh in for the third time on the issue.

Eight residents spoke, with four against and four in favor of the village opting out of recreational pot sales. One business owner interested in opening a dispensary in town also spoke.

Marilyn Gallagher and Ned Grabavoy – citing studies they had read – both voiced concerns about increased use of marijuana leading to more emergency room visits and driving accidents.

“We need to send Springfield a message,” Gallagher said. “Just because they are not capable of making good and rational decisions for the health and safety of their residents doesn’t mean we are not.”

Grabavoy said he wants “this community to be safe for future generations.”

Dawn Rinchiuso, a recovered opioid addict, and Vince Schilke were among the residents who wanted a recreational dispensary.

Rinchiuso said a doctor had prescribed her enough OxyContin to make her a “zombie who spiraled into a deep depression and cried every day.” After another doctor put her into the hospital to detox, she was able to secure a medical marijuana prescription.

“Had recreational marijuana been available to me, I would have gotten off the opioids much sooner,” she said. “I know there are many people in our town that are suffering from various medical conditions, and recreational marijuana can help them keep away from opioids.”

Schilke said he believed a future board would approve a recreational marijuana dispensary, “so it makes sense to figure it out now before Will County allows one in unincorporated New Lenox and the village is left empty-handed.”

The county has not yet voted on the issue.

Baldermann said it was evident that “we have a divided community,” and that the village would be making a decision “from a business standpoint.”

Baldermann said that while the village could get 3% of the sales tax on pot sales by opting in, there was no guarantee the village would get a dispensary or that the state would not lower the village’s portion of marijuana sales tax in the future.

He said the cannabis act passed by the state over the summer is “not perfect legislation,” and the state must still address a lot of unanswered questions.

“You can see we have good people on both sides of the argument … and that’s the difficult part of our job – trying to represent all the people in our town,” Baldermann said. “In this particular case, that’s impossible.”

Baldermann indicated after the meeting that he would prefer the village opt out of allowing pot sales in town, at least for now.

“There is nothing that I’ve heard that shows that we can’t take our time on this,” he said.

He also said he “would love to get a medical marijuana dispensary in town.” The village already has zoning in place for medical marijuana businesses, but no dispensary has come.

Separately, the board approved an 80% tax rebate of the village’s portion of 2018 property taxes. This is the 10th consecutive year the village has refunded a portion of residents’ property taxes.

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