Medical marijuana shops to open in Urbana

By Christine Olivo

Urbana residents may soon see medical marijuana facilities open for business after the Urbana City Council voted unanimously at its Monday meeting to decide where and how shops can be regulated within the city.

The approved zoning amendment allows Urbana to host dispensary and cultivation centers for medicinal marijuana near the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Anthony Drive.

Kevin Garcia, city planner, and David Brodsky, one of the partners of Natural Choice Holdings, both spoke regarding the opening of local medicinal marijuana shops at city council.

Garcia’s presentation was based on the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act passed Jan. 1, 2014, making Illinois the 20th state to legalize marijuana for medical use.

The act states that marijuana usage is legal for qualifying patients to obtain medical cannabis to treat severe medical conditions. The act lists 40 medical conditions, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and others, that would qualify a patient to obtain the usage of medical cannabis.

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“The state is very strict in relation to other states that have passed similar laws,” Garcia told city council members. “I cannot stress enough how strict the state is.”

The state will issue two licenses to sellers and one license to a cultivator in the nine-county district, which includes the area of Urbana.

Brodsky told the council that Urbana seemed like a fitting place for Cannabis dispensaries, considering Urbana is a regional center for medical care. He then added that a location had been picked that would potentially serve 500 to 700 patients in need of medical marijuana prescriptions. These shops are predicted to bring in about $100,000 in tax revenue to the city.

Cultivation centers in Urbana may not be located within 2,500 feet of pre-existing schools, day care centers or residential areas. Similarly, medical marijuana dispensaries may not be located within 1,000 feet of pre-existing schools and day care centers.

Diane Marlin, Ward 7 council member, said she was concerned regarding where these facilities would be built in the area and proposed a required special use permit for dispensaries.

“We recently changed the liquor license ordinance to allow us to have council review to consider neighborhood context, which I feel would also be appropriate for dispensaries,” she said.

Marlin added that, although a dispensary is not quite a liquor store, nor a drug store, they are completely new facilities that the state has no prior experience of handling.

“It’s important to take into account neighborhood context with this particular concept,” Marlin said.

Brodsky said Urbana was “a little behind the game,” and having to obtain a special use permit would increase the chances of Urbana being precluded from having a dispensary.

Eric Jakobsson, Ward 2 city council member, said he doesn’t believe dispensaries should have to obtain the special use permit.

“It would be a good thing for our community for one of the dispensaries to be permitted here in the area,” Jakobsson said.

Before any facilities will open in the Urbana area, Brodsky and Garcia will need to apply for permits with the city, state licenses and they must pass inspections.

Christine can be reached at [email protected].