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How close can a marijuana store be to a Belleville school? Official questions current rule

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Eric Schmid
/
St. Louis Public Radio
The city of Belleville is considering a proposal that would allow a cannabis dispensary to open 100 feet from a school.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

The 1936 movie “Reefer Madness” and whether a pot dispensary next to a school is a good selling point for attracting new residents are part of ongoing Belleville City Council discussion.

When Belleville leaders passed an ordinance a few years ago to regulate the location of marijuana stores, they decided they would have to be at least 1,500 feet from a school or daycare center. The ordinance also calls for the stores to be at least 400 feet away from a home.

But Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle has proposed an amendment that would wipe out those requirements and reduce the distance to 100 feet. That’s current code for bars and taverns, although it also allows the mayor, who serves as the city’s liquor commissioner, to grant exceptions.

Randle’s proposal was considered by City Council members during their meeting on Monday, July 18 but they ended up tabling the issue. They directed City Attorney Garrett Hoerner to get clarification from the Illinois Attorney General about the state law regarding the proximity of cannabis dispensaries and schools.

Hoerner told the council members that state law forbids “advertising or promotion” of a cannabis store within 1,000 feet of school but it doesn’t say anything about the location of the building in relation to a school.

That prompted Ward 1 Alderman Bryan Whitaker to ask whether the city could “supersede” the state law if it adopted Randle’s proposal. And if the city did allow a dispensary to open less than 1,000 feet from a school, he asked, could the business even have a sign.

“It doesn’t appear to supersede it, but yeah, if it were interpreted that way later by the courts, then it could conceivably require an amendment,” Hoerner said.

Hoerner also said that other municipalities, including Chicago, have allowed marijuana stores to be less than a 1,000 feet from schools, suggesting that some officials have concluded that the advertising ban does not apply to a building.

In Belleville, the city has permitted one cannabis store to operate but the site has not yet opened. It is off Illinois 15 near South 74th Street in a former oncology center at 7300 Twin Pyramid Parkway.

Also earlier this year, the council voted against a proposed dispensary at the corner of North Belt West and West Main Street because the site was within 400 feet of a home. If Randle’s proposed amendment had been in effect at the time, that site would have met the distance requirements.

Other places that already sell marijuana in the Metro East include sites in Collinsville, Fairview Heights and Sauget.

Illinois began allowing marijuana sales for recreational use on Jan. 1, 2020. In 2021, the industry had $1.37 billion in sales in the state.

Changing the distance between schools and stores

“I guess I’m the guilty party as far as bringing this to the City Council.”

That’s how Randle started his pitch to the other aldermen about relaxing distance requirements, pointing out that sales tax revenue from pot stores could help fund the salary increases recently given to police officers and for new equipment purchases.

“We have neighborhood taverns all over the place,” Randle said. “We don’t have a beef about them.

“If you went to high school during the years that I went to high school, you’ve probably seen in health class a 1936 film called ‘Reefer Madness.”

The movie delivered an anti-pot message to parents and their children, but Randle said the “knee-jerk” reaction portrayed in the film reminded him of the way Belleville’s 1,500-foot rule was implemented.

“When I take a look at how we are measuring these distances here, why are we treating it so differently from alcohol?” he asked.

Randle’s proposal also calls for removing the city’s limit on the number of cannabis dispensaries allowed in the city. The current ordinance sets the limit at two stores but Randle’s plan would remove that limitation.

Randle said he wants the city to find ways to attract more cannabis stores and the revenue generated by the stores could help mitigate fee increases for trash and sewer services.

Changing the distance requirements and making it easier to open a pot store in Belleville “may not be an answer to all our prayers but I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Randle said.

Attracting new residents

Mayor Patty Gregory called Randle’s proposal a “radical, radical change totally.”

Gregory noted she is a retired school teacher and raised questions about whether the distance between a school and a dispensary should be reduced from 1,500 feet to 100 feet.

“How does it affect us, the perception first of all, in housing markets?” she told the council. “Think about as a parent if you were wanting to move to a community, and in that community, you are looking at the schools. That’s why most people choose where to live because of schools, and you come to a community that now has dispensaries right out in front of the schools.

“Is that what you would consider a good place to place your children and move your family to?”

Mike Koziatek is an reporter who covers the Belleville area for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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