February 20, 2014

Illinois regulating Medical Marijuana out of existence

February 20, 2014. Morton Grove, IL. The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act was signed into law in Illinois in 2013 and took effect January 1st. But there still isn’t a single medical marijuana dispensary anywhere in the state and there might not be until the law is changed. Between uninformed State legislators and resistant towns, politicians are crippling the law before it even gets started.

Sorry grandma. Towns like Chicago & Morton Grove don't want druggie trouble-makers like you around.

There are two main problems with the Illinois medical marijuana law. First, it requires dispensaries and greenhouses to be located 1,000 feet away from schools or day care centers and 2,500 feet away from residential neighborhoods. Those spots simply don’t exist in most areas of Cook County except in dangerous industrial parks. And second, while the law prohibits towns from passing laws banning medical marijuana, they’re finding it easy enough to simply zone them out of existence.

Pay to play the Chicago way

The first attempt to limit, or at least control, the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries came from Mayor Emanuel, Alderman Ed Burke (D-14) and the Chicago City Council. As reported by the Chicago Tribune three weeks ago, ‘Burke and Emanuel want to make the permits a special use that would also require the OK of the city Zoning Board of Appeals, a body appointed by the mayor which nearly always takes its cues from local aldermen.’ In other words, it would be just like trying to open any other business in Chicago - you want to play, you have to pay, your local Ward Boss the Alderman.

As the city’s largest news outlet points out, Chicago’s Aldermen are treating medical marijuana dispensaries like casinos, strip clubs or taverns instead of the prescription drug pharmacies they are. Imagine trying to force Walgreens or CVS to only operate in industrial parks. The ghosts of the gray panthers would rise up once again and Chicago’s seniors would clean out every City Council member in the next election.

Wilmette can’t comply

Most people would assume that the wealthy Chicago suburb of Wilmette would shun a medical marijuana dispensary. But surprisingly, sick rich people like to smoke pot. Unfortunately, Wilmette officials announced earlier this month that based on the state law’s restrictions on distances from schools, daycare centers and residential neighborhoods, the town would not be able to host one of the dispensaries designated for suburban Cook County.

John Adler, Director of Community Development for Wilmette, was quoted by the Chicago Tribune explaining that after the town revised its local zoning to accommodate the new state medical marijuana law, they realized they didn’t have any locations capable of being zoned for a dispensary or green house. "In a community like Wilmette, it would be difficult to find a place for a cultivation center, which is required to be located at least 2,500 feet from a residential neighborhood," Adler told the publication, "We haven't laid a ruler down, but the reality is, it probably also would be difficult to find a location for a dispensary that is at least 1,000 feet from a school or day care center."

Morton Grove to ban pot one way or another

The City of Chicago is currently having a civil war over relegating medical marijuana dispensaries to industrial parks because slow-moving, wheelchair-bound cancer patients would immediately be run over by giant dump trucks and other semi-trucks maneuvering smoke-filled, unpaved, gravel roads with no streets, much less sidewalks. At the same time, the northern suburb of Morton Grove is having no such conflict of conscience. They’ve proposed a new ordinance that banishes marijuana pharmacies and clinics to industrial parks.

As detailed by the Morton Grove Champion, the Village Board proposed a measure that would ban medical marijuana facilities from commercial districts. The state law already bans them in residential districts, but not in commercial districts where other doctor’s offices and pharmacies are always located. Members of the Morton Grove Village Board and Planning Commission seemed less than honest while announcing and endorsing the plan.

At the Board meeting two weeks ago, Planning Commissioner Ed Gabriel all but apologized for not banning marijuana outright, explaining that it was now against Illinois state law to do so. But he did celebrate the notion that the cannabis pharmacies could be relegated to the no-man’s-land of industrial parks. Village Trustee Janine Witko was the individual with the honor of introducing the ordinance. Also, just like Chicago and other towns, Morton Grove designated the pharmacies and green houses as ‘special use’, requiring them to individually apply for a special permit from the town.

Community and Economic Development Director Nancy Radzevich was one of the officials who seemed less than honest. She insisted that the restrictions in the Morton Grove ordinance were already passed by Chicago, neighboring Niles and other towns. In reality, Chicago did propose making the pharmacies apply for a special use permit. But members of the Chicago City Council are currently lobbying the state legislature to amend the law so that the city won’t have to relegate the shops to dangerous and far-off manufacturing districts.

At the same time the Morton Grove Village Board proposed the above restriction, it also saddled all the suburb’s doctor’s offices with the same ‘special use’ zoning. While the ordinance doesn’t say it specifically, some critics noted that the change was in response to two recent attempts by doctors trying to open offices in business districts alongside other doctors, dentists, restaurants, 7-11’s and the like. But these two doctors were special. They wanted to write medical marijuana prescriptions in a town that was completely dry, something business professors call the law of supply and demand. Determined to avoid that close call, all doctors will now have to come before the Village individually before being allowed to open an office.

Community Development Director Radzevich seemed 0 for 2 when the newspaper quoted her explaining that the ordinance change for doctors had nothing to do with the two marijuana-prescribing doctors that tried to infiltrate the suburb. Instead, she said the ordinance forces all doctors, except marijuana-prescribing doctors apparently, to locate inside the town’s commercially zoned areas to ensure there would always be ample parking for all patients. “Some medical clinics may require more parking than others,” Radzevich was quoted by the paper insisting, “This would make sure there’s sufficient parking.”

State sides with local activists, not politicians

Earlier this week, the Chicago Sun Times obtained a copy of a map and proposed state rules from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation governing the zoning of medical marijuana dispensaries and greenhouses. In it, the state designates 60 dispensaries to be located across the state. The city of Chicago would be limited to 13 marijuana pharmacies while the suburbs are given 11. “These are draft rules and we look forward to getting input from everyone who has an interest in them,” Department spokeswoman Susan Hofer was quoted saying.

Siding with advocates for the cancer victims, AIDS patients and war amputees the state’s medical marijuana law as intended to help, the proposed state guidelines would require the marijuana dispensaries to be scattered equally around the cities and towns. Instead of being isolated in remote industrial parks, the pharmacies must be located in consideration of the travel distance of the patients, thus putting them back into commercial districts along with other doctor’s offices and pharmacies.

One apparent ally the patients have is none other than Chicago Alderman Danny Solis (D-25). As the powerful Chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee, he has the ability to fight back against the anti-marijuana initiatives of Mayor Emanuel and his ally Ald. Ed Burke, both of which have pushed the idea of also limiting marijuana clinics to industrial parks. With the state firmly on his side now, Alderman Solis may just be able implement the program so it alleviates suffering as intended, not increases it. “I had experience with my mom’s passing where, frankly, that would have been something we would have wanted for her if it would have helped with her pain in the last days of her life,” Solis told the Sun Times.


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