EFFINGHAM — Green Thumb Industries reps told the Effingham City Council this week that there is the potential economic benefit of up to $1 million in annual tax dollars locally, if it would allow the sale of adult recreational cannabis.

The sale of recreational cannabis for anyone over age 21 becomes legal in Illinois effective Jan. 1, but the municipality must approve the zoning and sale regulations first. Effingham City Council has not yet decided whether to allow recreational sales of adult-use marijuana in the city.

Two Effingham-area residents came forward at the council meeting Tuesday and spoke in favor of allowing recreational cannabis in Effingham, because they’ve seen the positive results of medicinal cannabis.

Richard Motch of Heartville said he’s fairly new in the county and works with veterans helping them transition from military life to civilian life, and find work in the process.

Motch said the recreational use would come with easier access for those who don’t have a medical cannabis card. The card is only possible with the help of their physician designating the person has qualifying conditions to use medical cannabis; and then the patient has costly fees to obtain the card.

“I’m just here to speak on behalf of the veterans I work with on the ease of access to medication, with the adult use passing,” said Motch. “I feel like it will help a lot of veterans get the access they need without having to jump through so many hoops.”

Motch, who served in the Marines for eight years, said the rate of suicides among veterans are high and continues to climb. He believes the location of Effingham gives good access for others to obtain cannabis on the recreational level, in addition to the already available medicinal cannabis.

“We still have an epidemic of veteran suicide,” said Motch. “It is actually going up. It’s up to about 22 a day.”

Cancer survivor Kyla Doedtman of Effingham spoke in support based on her experiences with medical cannabis, while she fought cancer. She said her survival rate was at only 15 percent. She endured surgeries and chemotherapy along the way.

After surgery, she didn’t typically reach for opioids for the pain, instead she used cannabis.

“I spent the last year and a half fighting for my life,” said Doedtman. “If it wasn’t for medical cannabis, I would not be here. It gave me that extra bite of food that I needed to get the energy. It helped me sleep. It helped with the anxiety and the depression.”

Doedtman said she knows of people who can’t afford the medical card, but if they had access to recreational use, they could still benefit from cannabis.

“If the city approves the recreational cannabis, that’s going to give more hope to those who are already suffering or afraid to ask for help,” said Doedtman. “They can just go get it.”

She also added the sale of recreational will bring “humongous revenue” into this city.

With the same site state license in hand, the local medical cannabis dispensary made a formal request to allow the sale of recreational cannabis for adults. The city could tax up to 3 percent on the sale of the product. GTI’s conservative estimates yield a range of $391,000 to $1,094,000 in revenue if Effingham City Council approves the request.

Three representatives with Green Thumb Industries made its formal request for zoning and allowing the sale for recreational adult use.

Dina Rollman, senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs with Green Thumb Industries, a 50 percent owner of The Clinic Effingham, presented reasons why the city should opt in for sale of recreational use.

GTI has 32 dispensaries in operation across the U.S. Effingham was one of the first. It opened Sept. 20, 2016. The company employs more than 1,200 employees in 12 states.

Rollman said there are numerous cameras inside and outside for security and said there would be ID scan technology to be certain no one under age would get served, if approved by the city. The state of Illinois also has a plant-tracking system, in the event of a recall or any other health issue from that plant. The business also has a robust inventory tracking system.

“We have done this transition in Nevada and Massachusetts, where we operated a medical cannabis dispensary, then the states legalized recreational,” said Rollman. “We have learned a lot through that process and we are comfortable now that we can do a slow, measured rollout here in Effingham.”

Rollman told the council that recreational sales would also add to employment in Effingham. The dispensary began with four employees and has grown to 20 today. It is expected there could be an additional 20 jobs in the first year of recreational, and another 20 in the second year, with this recreational opt in.

She added there would be a positive economic impact on Effingham if this is approved. She believes folks coming here to buy this product will also spend money in other businesses, shops and restaurants.

Mayor Mike Schutzbach asked from past GTI experience, if people tended to stop using medical cannabis once the recreational becomes available?

“There are so many different motivations,” said Rollman.

Some who are more concerned about privacy might opt for recreational, or those who are concerned about the higher tax, might opt for medical use, she said. Some want to use it for medical reasons, but their ailment isn’t one listed, so recreational would fit that need better, for examples.

Kelley Esker, director of patient and community outreach, spoke about the education-based approach she uses and reflected on the positive community member GTI has been in Effingham.

“It is important for us to have community engagement to offer the education on cannabis use, because medical cannabis and recreational cannabis are the same thing,” said Esker. “It’s just that one you have to have a card and an approved condition; where with recreational anyone can come in and purchase it as long as they are over the age of 21.”

She added that GTI teaches in workshops what cannabis is and what benefits it has. She said some people are afraid to talk to their physician about use for medical reasons, and would rather try recreational and switch over to the medical cannabis card later.

“We want to be sure the person understands what they are using,” said Esker.

Schutzbach said Tuesday, that there will be other opportunities to take out speakers’ cards prior to the Nov. 5 and Nov. 19 City Council meetings. The council will likely by then be ready to vote on whether or not to allow the sale of recreational marijuana, on Nov. 19.

The council meets at 5 p.m. on those dates at City Hall, 201 E. Jefferson Ave., Effingham. To watch the entire streamed meeting http://effinghamil.swagit.com/play/10152019-1011

Dawn Schabbing can be reached at dawn.schabbing@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151, ext 138.

Reporter

Dawn Schabbing is a senior reporter at the Effingham Daily News, covering Effingham City Hall, Unit 40, and special projects. A graduate of Lake Land College and Eastern Illinois University with degrees in journalism, she lives in Neoga.

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