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Naperville council eyes guidelines for medical pot

Marijuana plants flourish under the lights at a grow house in Denver, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. Marijuana legalization votes this week in Colorado and Washington state don't just set up an epic state-federal showdown on drug law for residents. The measures also opens the door for marijuana tourism. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

AP Photo/Ed Andrieski

When marijuana becomes a legally prescribed drug in Illinois on Jan. 1, Naperville will be one of many communities across the state with new laws on the books governing the local production and distribution of the medication. Officials now are clarifying how the regulations will look.

Illinois Public Act 098-122, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, cites a long history for the medical applications of marijuana for alleviating symptoms of such conditions as cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS. The law, which allows those with a doctor’s prescription to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks, is designed to protect people with those and other ailments, and their care providers, from running afoul of the law if they opt for pot’s therapeutic benefits.

When the City Council had the first reading Tuesday of a set of proposed code amendments to localize the regulations already set forth by the state, much of the discussion centered on whether to permit drive-through windows at the dispensaries, a feature the members generally oppose. Members of the Planning & Zoning Commission last month were divided on the question, however.

During several hours’ worth of discussion last month over two meetings, Community Planner Allison Laff told members of the planning board that municipalities can adopt more stringent regulations than those set by the state if they like, but cannot ban them entirely.

“Cities can choose not to adopt any additional regulations, you can comply with the state act,” Laff said.

Considered some of the most restrictive measures on the books in the 20 states that allow medical marijuana, Illinois’ limits stipulate that no more than 60 dispensaries and 22 cultivation centers, one for each state police district, can be established statewide. The growing sites have to be at least 2,500 feet from schools, day care centers and neighborhoods.

Staff members told the planning panel that a cultivation center could be most appropriately located near the Interstate 88, Route 59 or Ogden Avenue corridor.

Less restrictive, in the staff’s recommendations to the council, are the potential locations for dispensaries, which could be allowed in certain business and transitional districts. The retail core, however, would be off-limits.

Planning Commission member Tim Messer asked during one of last month’s meetings how the staff had reached that recommendation.

“Downtown core is all about retail that encourages other retail, so I think it was a ‘fit’ issue,” Laff said.

Laff said the staff also had proposed banning drive-through windows at the dispensing sites, for security reasons and to discourage new traffic, but the matter generated discussion.

“I think some Plan Commission members felt that because pharmacies have drive-through facilities, it would be appropriate to allow them at dispensaries,” she said.

Laff cautioned, however, that the wording of the motion at the commission’s Nov. 20 meeting was confusing and some of those who voted to permit them appear to have intended to weigh in against the window service. The motion to leave a ban out of the commission’s recommendation to the council passed 5-4.

Most of the council members indicated they wouldn’t likely favor the drive-through feature either.

“I’m kind of on the side of why have one?” said Councilman Paul Hinterlong, who suggested a ban “might eliminate some headaches down the road.”

The council, which also took up the issue of regulating mixed martial arts at this week’s business meeting, is scheduled to vote on the medical marijuana rules at its Dec. 17 meeting. Councilwoman Judith Brodhead addressed the several dozen high school students who had attended Tuesday’s meeting as part of a class requirement, saying the inclusion of two such matters on the council’s agenda is not the norm.

“Rarely do we have meetings where we’re discussing mixed martial arts and medical marijuana,” Brodhead said. “Usually we’re talking about things like curb cuts and parking spaces.”

Council member Joe McElroy weighed in on the juxtaposition, tongue in cheek.

“If we put medical marijuana next to cage fighting, it might really settle things down,” McElroy said.

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