NORMAL — Cannabis businesses should steer clear of Illinois State University, residences above businesses and mobile home parks, a Normal commission said Thursday.
The town should allow any type of cannabis business — craft growing, cultivation, dispensary, infusion, processing and transportation operations —but within strict guidelines, Normal Planning Commission recommended.
Those guidelines go to Normal City Council for approval Nov. 18. Such businesses could come to town as soon as Jan. 1, when cannabis use by adults becomes legal statewide.
Up to three businesses could come to McLean and DeWitt counties. In Normal, each would need to get a special use permit from the town's zoning board.
One business is throwing its hat in the ring: The Green Solution, which has owned and operated a medical cannabis dispensary in north Normal since 2016. The company hopes to turn that facility on Northtown Road into a dual medical/recreational dispensary next year, Illinois Operations Manager Andrew Cordes told the commission.
"We can help be an economic driver for Normal," said Cordes; the company current has 12 employees at the store but could add another 20 with a recreational business on site. "People in the town of Normal will get cannabis if they like it."
Commissioners said they can support cannabis businesses coming to Normal, but they should be at least 100 feet away from churches, daycares and schools, and 200 feet from residences — with special provisions to protect university students and those who live in non-traditional homes.
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"I like the idea of not having a dispensary within an easy walk of a university," said Commissioner Bob Broad; he noted research presented by former Normal City Council member Jeff Fritzen about the substance's effect on young brains.
Commissioner Rick Boser responded that students will get cannabis if they want it, especially on the black market, and noted multiple liquor stores are in the area exempted from cannabis development.
"I just want to make it a little more difficult," said Broad.
Residents were divided on the merits of bringing cannabis businesses to town during a public hearing before the commission.
Some, including McLean County Board member Laurie Wollrab, said the town should welcome new sales tax revenue from the substance and give greater access to residents who want to use the drug for medical purposes. She noted residents are already using cannabis that's untaxed and less safe.
"People are happy to purchase from a legal source to ensure safety and reliability, especially if that source is easy to get to," she said of concerns about illegal sales undercutting the legal market.
Fritzen encouraged the commission to disallow all cannabis businesses in the town because allowing the substance sends mixed messages to teens who are told not to do drugs. He also noted how difficult it is for businesses to hire if they have zero-tolerance policies, like businesses that use large machinery.
"We should not be sanctioning that by welcoming this into our community," said Fritzen.