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Lake County Regional Planning Commission reviews medical marijuana rules

Lake County Regional Planning Commissivoted 6-5 against recommending provisithwould prohibit cannabis dispensaries or culivatisites from sitting with500 feet residential areas

Lake County Regional Planning Commission voted 6-5 against recommending a provision that would prohibit cannabis dispensaries or culivation sites from sitting within 500 feet of residential areas, parks, forest preserves or places of worship. | File

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Updated: March 31, 2014 4:26AM

The first policy debate over regultions for medical marijuana operations in unincorporated areas found members of the Lake County Regional Planning Commission questioning this week whether some of the proposed rules would be too strict.

For example, during a discussion of suggested measures on Tuesday, Jan. 28, members voted 6-5 against recommending a provision that would prohibit cannabis dispensaries or culivation sites from sitting within 500 feet of residential areas, parks, forest preserves or places of worship.

Commission member Marie Lyons was among those voting against that concept, saying “I think we’re running into crossing a line where we’re making it too restrictive. I’m troubled by adding these other protected uses” to similar limits related to schools and daycare centers.

“I agree that there needs to be standards,” Lyons added. “I just feel that so much of this is fear-based.”

During a public meeting that covered some two hours at the Lake County Division of Transportation headquarters in Libertyville, commission members debated such things as why a medical marijuana business would need more scrutiny than a traditional pharmacy.

“I’m comparing medical marijuana to other pharmacueticals and how we as a society look at cannabis,” member Loraine Ray said at one point. “I do think it’s somewhat amusing that we are enacting so many strict and strident restrictions when it comes to medical marijuana.”

The county is studying a set of regulations as the state moves toward implementation of its Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, which became law on Jan. 1 and will go into action this spring.

The proposed rules were drafted by a county task force that worked with local municipalities on “reasonable zoning regulations” allowed by the state. Planning, Building and Development director Eric Waggoner told the commission that the suggestions are intended to “allow Lake County communities to do a good job in striking that reasonable balance when it comes to these facilities.”

Waggoner pointed out that several security-related provisions for dispensaries — such as requirements for video surveillance, lighting and alarms — reflect the fact that medicial marijuana purchases are currently on a cash-only basis.

“There are security impacts related to cannabis in the states that have allowed it,” said Waggoner, adding that staff research showed that individuls “carrying wads of cash and 2.5 ounces of marijuana” could be robbery targets as they leave dispensaries.

In the end, the commission recommended two changes to the proposed rules — along with rejecting any buffers other than a 1,000-foot distance between cannabis facilities and schools or daycare centers, the panel voted in favor of a closing time of 7 p.m. rather than 6 p.m.

Otherwise, the panel signed off on such things as limits on signage, bans on retail sale at dispensaries and prohibition of anyone under 18 from entering a facility.

Commission chairman Marvin Raymond cited his experience as a teacher in upholding most of the proposed regulations, saying they can be revisited as the issue of medical marijuana evolves.

“Remember, it’s always easier if you put your foot down harder to start with. You can always let up,” he said. “We start out strict as possible, and then you let up.”

The next step for the proposed rules at the county level is a Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing on Feb. 6 at 8 a.m. at the Central Permits Facility in Libertyville. Recommendations from both the zoning board and the planning commission will then be forwarded to a County Board committee, which will pass along a final version for board approval.

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