Tuesday, September 16, 2014
As the implementation phase of last year’s Illinois medical marijuana statute gets underway, the real action now is happening at zoning boards and city councils around the state. Famously the nation’s strictest medical cannabis law of the twenty-four enacted to date, Illinois’ statute allows for the licensing of up to 22 marijuana cultivation sites and up to 60 dispensaries, distributed among specified geographic regions throughout the state through a competitive licensing process. Applications for cannabis entrepreneurs became available on August 14 and are due next week.
Among the application requirements are a showing that the proposed cultivation facility or dispensary complies with all local building and zoning codes. In addition, an applicant can earn bonus points for putting in place a Community Benefits Plan and for a showing of local support for the proposed location. While municipalities cannot ban cannabis facilities outright, they may limit them to specific districts or impose reasonable conditions on their permits. The State’s own prohibition on dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school or nursery renders it very unlikely that tony chiefly-residential suburbs will ever see cannabis facilities in their towns; nevertheless, these towns (reluctantly) amended their zoning codes to allow for the possibility. Other jurisdictions allow cultivation facilities as of right in agricultural areas but subject dispensaries to permit conditions—measures typically aimed at addressing the additional security concerns of businesses potentially housing large quantities of drugs and cash. In Chicago, despite some initial efforts on the part of at least one alderman to confine dispensaries to manufacturing districts, dispensaries are now allowed in almost any business, commercial, mixed use, or downtown service district.
Now that the fierce competition for licenses is genuinely underway, municipalities are busy approving those special use permits. Local hostility towards the facilities appears to be reversing as authorities consider the economic benefits that medical cannabis might bring to their cities and towns. As explained by Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante and reported in the Joliet Herald News, “It’s kind of like gambling. If it's going to happen, I want it in Joliet so we get the sales tax and jobs." Some savvy jurisdictions are negotiating with cannabis entrepreneurs to offer a letter of support in exchange for benefits to the city. The far-northern Illinois city of McHenry has negotiated a Contribution Agreement with one grower, under which the mayor will write a letter of support of the grower’s license application in exchange for payments to the city of at least $20,000 per year, should that grower win the coveted state cultivator’s license. Not to be outdone, last night the City Council of Batavia unanimously authorized that town’s mayor to send a letter of support in favor of another applicant for a proposed cultivation facility there. McHenry and Batavia are both located in the same 5-county district in Northern Illinois, which under the legislation will house only one such facility. Similar rivalries are taking place all over the state, including in counties that have hedged their bets by amending zoning in such a way as two approve two facilities, even though no more than one of those will win the coveted license. (Among those, Will County, home of the City of Joliet, whose optimistic mayor is quoted above.)
Wherever Illinois' 60 medical marijuana dispensaries and 22 cultivation facilities are eventually located, it looks like patients will not be the only ones to benefit. Medical cannabis will be a boon to business in Illinois—not to mention a boon to government. The non-refundable state application fee for a cultivation facility license is $25,000; operating fees for successful licensees will total in the hundreds of thousands annually. And due to a little local clout in the decision-making process, counties and municipalities may end up benefitting as well.
~Celeste Pagano, DePaul University College of Law