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BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington resident Mary Kramp is against having a dispensary selling marijuana in the city.

"One of the chief reasons is the negative impact on low-income citizens," she said. "If they begin spending their money on marijuana that takes money away from their families."

She was among four people who spoke during public comments at the Bloomington cannabis task force's first meeting Thursday night. Another resident shared Kramp's concerns while two others voiced support for allowing the sale of recreational cannabis in the city.

But in a straw poll of the panel, six of its 10 members said they were neutral because they needed to learn more about the new law legalizing recreational marijuana use by adults, beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

Four of the task force members, including the City Council's two representatives — Alderwomen Julie Emig of Ward 4 and Jenn Carrillo of Ward 6 —  said they either supported or were leaning toward the city allowing cannabis sales.

Carrillo, who came up with the idea to create the cannabis task force to help guide the City Council in its decisions, has openly advocated for Bloomington to become "a cannabis-pervasive" community.

"I am leaning toward not opting out, so allowing the legal retail of cannabis in the area because I think that gives us an opportunity to control it," said Emig.

"I think today was a lot about questions," said panel member John Walsh, who is McLean County Chamber of Commerce's manager of government and public affairs. "I think the question that I would like this task force to consider is, with federal legislation on the near horizon, should a community be prohibiting a business the state has said is legal?"

"Cannabis is going to be in the community because Normal already has a (medical) dispensary," said task force member Olivia Butts, an Illinois State University associate professor in the School of Kinesiology and Recreation and member of the Black Lives Matter movement. "So my initial idea is that we don't want to miss out on some of the opportunities that really could be great for the city and great for folks who have  been disproportionately affected by this in the past."

Butts was referring to a part of the law that give preference to placing cannabis growers and vendors in areas disproportionately impacted by anti-marijuana legal efforts. The designation stems from an area's high rates of arrest, conviction and incarceration related to cannabis and other qualifications, including poverty and unemployment. 

Most of west and south Bloomington and Illinois State University and surrounding neighborhoods in Normal are among 683 U.S. Census tracts throughout the state that qualify, according to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

"I don't have enough information to say yea or nay," said panel member Linda Foster, who is president of the local NAACP chapter.

Foster said she wants to learn more about the effect legal marijuana could have on the community, especially for its "black and brown" populations.

The two police officers on the panel, Assistant Police Chief Greg Scott and Sgt. Aaron Veerman, said they were neutral because they need to learn more about how police will deal with people who drive under the influence of the marijuana and whether dispensaries would be allowed near school zones.

The panel unanimously elected Foster chairperson and Butts vice chairperson after they each nominated themselves. 

The City Council gave the cannabis task force a lifespan of 90 days, but an initial report and recommendations are due Oct. 21.

The task force will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday at a location to be announced later.

Contact Maria Nagle at (309) 820-3244. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Nagle

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