Illinois awarded the first recreational marijuana licenses on Thursday, Aug. 29, which allows businesses to sell weed freely. According to the Chicago Tribune, the first shops to receive licenses to sell are located in Naperville, Mundelein, Joliet, Effingham and Canton.
Now that the sale of marijuana has been legalized statewide, the battle to decide where it will be sold is left to local governments. The Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act includes provisions for “restricted cannabis zones,” where home cultivation and some cannabis businesses can be banned. It is left up to municipalities to decide whether they want to allow cannabis businesses or not. Local communities can choose to ask for the establishment of such a restricted zone if at least 25% of the registered voters of a precinct petition their alderperson to introduce a local ordinance.
Out of the five cities that house the now-licensed cannabis businesses in Illinois, only Canton and Joliet have expressed their support for the legalization movement. But in Naperville, the debate on the legality of retail sale of recreational weed has attracted national attention. The city, which largely leans Republican, has been on the fence on this issue.
“Having a medical marijuana dispensary has not hurt our brand one iota. If that had been badly run, and we had issues of increases in crime or poor behavior or whatever you might be afraid of, I may be convinced that this is a bad idea, but that has not been the case at all,” city council member Judy Brodhead told the Chicago Tribune following a split vote postponing the decision. On Saturday, Aug. 31, a group of residents called Opt Out Naperville organized a demonstration to convince the city council to vote against marijuana sales.
The marijuana bill, signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, can ban recreational sales or just restrict the number of dispensaries and their locations. If such a business were to set up shop in a municipality that chose to ban the sale of recreational marijuana, their only potential clients would be medical marijuana patients, thus greatly reducing profitability.
Loopholes exist. For instance, the law was expanded in August 2018 to allow patients to switch from opioid painkillers to medical marijuana, thus making more than two million Illinois residents potentially qualify to buy medical marijuana. More recently, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Program Act was amended to include more medical conditions qualifying patients for medical marijuana, including autism, anorexia, migraines and more.
However, although the law has been getting increasingly permissive to grant access to medical marijuana, it seems unlikely that dispensaries could have the same level of success without recreational sales, thus driving businesses out of cities that choose to become restricted cannabis zones.