A vote by the City Council has cleared the path for a cannabis dispensary in Jacksonville, however, that doesn’t mean it will open anytime soon.
The Jacksonville City Council approved a zoning change request for the property located at 1112 Veterans Drive by an 8 to 1 vote during their regular meeting last night. Ward 1 Alderman Darcella Speed was the only member of the Council not in attendance.
Some citizens voiced their concerns about the dispensary during public comment ahead of the vote. Gretchen Tonellato and Shilea Jones, who both work in a neighboring business expressed more concerns about the dispensary including security in the area, and how bringing a business like this to Jacksonville would increase crime in the area.
Tonellato and Jones said following the first reading, they began asking customers if they were in favor of the dispensary and estimated that 95% were not, and 145 signed a petition against approval of the change.
Ward 2 Alderman Alison Rubin de Celis cast the lone no vote against the change. She said following the meeting that she also has concerns about where the dispensary would be located.
“This was something that was passed before I was on the council. I just think the sighting is problematic because of the proximity of the [other] businesses and the Gateway Foundation. I also think it’s important since it passed that a good portion of the funding for this go to community redevelopment because that’s what was written in the law when marijuana legalization was passed.”
Alison Rubin de Celis’ sister-in-law Betty Rubin de Celis also spoke against the dispensary during public comment saying that her family had only recently heard about the plans for the business to move into town and had collected 51 signatures from members of her church asking for the council to vote no.
She said they also were not aware that the City Council had previously passed an ordinance allowing for dispensaries to be allowed in the city and hoped there was a way the Council could “undo” the ordinance. The previous City Council approved the ordinance by an 8 to 2 vote on January 13th, 2020.
Mayor Andy Ezard said following the meeting that he has no intention of vetoing the approval He says he appreciates the concerns that were expressed during the meeting but that he does not think it will be the issue for the city they feel it will be.
Ezard says he recently did a little research on his own while on a trip to Springfield where dispensaries have been open since cannabis sales became legal in Illinois.
“I took the time out last week during the IML convention to go over and talk to my friend Mark Kessler at Recycled Records who is right across the street from Ascend, and he shared with me some stories from when that opened up, and he says it’s been no problem.
I really don’t think it’s going to be a problem. I’d rather keep folks in Jacksonville but, philosophically I understand the concern, I get it. But I think in the end everything’s going to be played right, our police are going to be on top of it, and in the end, I think this is going to be a non-issue going forward.”
Kenny Pleasant of Bellevue, Washington who hopes to open his first dispensary in Illinois at the site says he is unsure when things will begin to take shape for the Kush 21 dispensary due to ongoing litigation the State of Illinois needs to resolve before new licenses can be issued.
Pleasant had intended to attend the meeting in person however due to a personal scheduling conflict he attended the meeting remotely. He says he and his partners have been waiting more than two years for the suits to be resolved, but felt it best to be proactive in finding the right site to be ready when the licensing process starts back up.
He says when they are allowed to put the dispensary in, he and his partners want to work with the community and especially any neighbors who have concerns about the business.
“If everyone could see us as what we are which is businessmen and not drug dealers. We welcome any cooperation or collaboration we could have with our fellow business owners. Just like a neighbor we always want to be in good company with whoever we are doing business with alongside. So we are welcome to whatever suggestions or feedback that they have that may improve their safety and security.”
Pleasant says the plan is to have full surveillance both inside and outside of the dispensary to make sure all areas are covered by video, work with Police to ensure the safety and security of the whole area, and even have on-site security guards if necessary.