EFFINGHAM — Effingham City Commissioner Merv Gillenwater was alone Tuesday in voting against the special-use permit and text amendment that would allow recreational-use cannabis sales in Effingham.
Gillenwater said he had stated his views previously and had no further comment.
He had previously said after much listening and studying the topic of cannabis use, he can’t ignore the negative effects it will have on the community.
Commissioners Libby Moeller, Larry Micenheimer, Hank Stephens and Mayor Mike Schutzbach all voted in favor of allowing the sale of cannabis for adult recreational use during the city council meeting.
Green Thumb Industries, which owns the medical marijuana facility The Clinic Effingham, requested the permit. None of its representatives spoke Tuesday.
Before the vote, three people voiced their opposition to recreational sales in the city.
The Rev. Bryan Newswander said as a local pastor he’s concerned about the addition of legalization of marijuana sales in Effingham. He said his church offers a 12-step program for those struggling with addictions.
“We see great things happen in those who have come to a point in their lives when they realize their best life to be lived is one free from addiction,” said Newswander. “I’d rather not have ordinances passed in a community where it opens a door for more people to have access to experiment with the controlled substance that is addictive and proven to be destructive in lives in a community.”
Newswander said he believes the city council wants what is good for the community. Because use of cannabis legally is “an experiment in our society,” he said it is important to look at other places. It is important to know the realities of what has happened in other states and other communities with the legalization of sales, he said.
He cited a 10-year study by the AAA Motor Club that showed negative effects of driving under the influence of marijuana.
“Does this bring the kind of good we want to see in our community?” he asked. “I know this has been legalized in our state, but we don’t have to continue on with this special-use permit. I realize there is an incentive with the sales revenue, but my question is: ‘Is it worth it?’”
Pastor Willie Love, who’s been an Effingham resident for eight years, said the council has had a great past reputation of looking out after the community, and he encouraged the council to vote against the special- use permit for sales of pot.
“Vote against this,” said Love. He called the issue a “challenging responsibility” for the council but also an opportunity to say no.
Love said he realizes there is revenue at stake, but the council should look beyond that and look to God for guidance.
“I believe that if we say ‘no’ to this, and ask God for his leadership, He will bless this city,” said Love. “I think that Effingham has a great opportunity to make a statement to the world that family is more important than revenue and someone coming in saying (this is) legal.”
Jim Mayhood also encouraged the council to consider more than the revenue, but the future of the children in Effingham.
In November, Schutzbach stood with Gillenwater in voting against the sale of recreational cannabis in the city after several lengthy discussions and public input at city hall.
On Tuesday, Schutzbach said the Plan Commission had previously conducted hearings, gathered information, conducted an investigation and voted in favor. He was taking that into consideration with his ‘yes’ vote.
Schutzbach, however, did say he was concerned about the amount of parking spaces for the new business. City Planner Greg Koester said parking regulations stated in the text amendment are more stringent than those in the zoning for a retail business. Additional spaces would be required at The Clinic, in comparison.
In January, the Effingham Plan Commission voted 4-2 to approve the location for recreational cannabis sales. Some opposition was about the location, 1011 Ford Avenue, next door to the medical cannabis site The Clinic Effingham.
At that time, two plan commissioners, Cindy Vogel and Brad Meinhart, voted against the permit. Those voting in favor were Chairman Brian Hayes, and Commissioners Mark Thies, David Storm and Alan Harris.
Before Tuesday’s vote, Micenheimer said there has been much discussion and public input and it was time to make a decision.
“Everyone has been very respectful,” said Micenheimer. “There are a lot of passionate feelings and we ask for your prayers as we move forward.”
Kelley Esker, GTI Community Outreach Director, said Tuesday the business hopes to be ready for recreational cannabis sales in late February. It has been selling medical cannabis at The Clinic Effingham for more than three years.
Esker previously said GTI will be hiring an additional 15 part-time employees for the Effingham dispensary.
Also, GTI expects to change the name of the dispensary to Rise Effingham upon opening of the new location in its rebranding efforts across Illinois. GTI also has locations in Mundelein, Canton, Quincy and Joliet.
A recent Associated Press story reported that Illinois marijuana dispensaries sold nearly $40 million worth of recreational weed during the state’s first month of legal sales, according to figures released Monday by the state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
Illinois residents bought more than $30.6 million in January, while out-of-state visitor sales totaled $8.6 million, the report shows. Dispensaries sold over 970,000 products.