Champaign County Board votes on cannabis-based businesses

By Diana Anghel, Staff Writer

Champaign County’s Environment and Land Use Committee recently voted on a zoning ordinance and a resolution that has to do with the incorporation of cannabis-based businesses in unincorporated areas of Champaign County. The votes happened on Nov. 7, and both ended in a tie.

First, the board voted on a zoning ordinance that allows for cannabis businesses, including dispensaries, cultivation sites and delivery services, to settle in specific zones of the unincorporated areas. Because the votes ended in a tie, the ordinance dies. Vice-Chair for the Environment and Land Use Committee Eric Thorsland voted in favor of the cannabis businesses. 

“The vote for an ordinance to allow (these businesses) — that’s a rule that either lives or dies in that committee,” he said. 

The second vote of the committee was on the resolution that fully prohibited all cannabis businesses. This vote also ended in a tie. However, it has a different route than the ordinance. Kyle Patterson, also a member of the board, voted against the prohibition.

“Because it’s not a zoning issue, the tie vote sends it to the full county board without recommendation from the committee, so the full county board can vote on that,” Patterson said. 

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Normally, there are three Republicans and four Democrats on the board who vote for these motions. On the day of the vote, one Democrat had conflicts and could not be in attendance, leaving three Republicans and three Democrats on the board. 

Thorsland said the vote of the full county board for the prohibition will happen on Thursday in the Brookens Administrative Center at 6:30 p.m. There is a time for public comments at the beginning of the meeting.

“The more people that come to talk about it, the more important the issue becomes in the mind of the board members,” Thorsland said. 

Many restrictions come with the incorporation of cannabis businesses in Illinois starting Jan. 1. Illinois receives only 75 licenses for retail establishments for the year. This means applications for licenses will not be admitted every time, and locations of the establishments will be limited. 

“There are 103 counties in Illinois, so I’m not sure we would even be likely to get one application in Champaign County in unincorporated areas,” Thorsland said. “Champaign and Urbana already have establishments that have requested to set up these businesses.”

Within the communities, some worries have been marijuana being a gateway drug, the negative social impacts of marijuana and the use of the drug by those underage. However, many believe it would have positive impacts. William Sunderland, resident of Champaign County since 1983, said he believes the incorporation of these businesses could be a net positive. 

“Cultivation and dispensaries would be a net positive because if people have a desire for recreational marijuana, they’re going to go where they can get it, and if the smaller communities don’t have dispensaries, you lose the benefit of the sales,” Sunderland said. 

Similarly, board members Patterson and Thorsland said they believe these businesses could lead to a positive impact.

“I voted in support of (the zoning ordinance) because it’s a legal business,” Thorsland said. “People will apply for licenses and there are many, many protections put in place.”  

Patterson said the vote should be beyond personal belief on the issue; it will be a reality once Jan. 1 hits. 

“People who live within those communities already do most of their shopping in Champaign-Urbana, whether it’s going to be a dispensary (or not),” Patterson said. “So the idea that not allowing dispensaries in those areas would prevent marijuana from being in those areas is just fundamentally illogical.”

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