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Area communities waiting on medical marijuana

Communities throughout McHenry County are waiting to see whether Gov. Pat Quinn will legalize medical marijuana before making revisions to their respective zoning codes that would regulate it.

Some officials in Huntley, Lake in the Hills and other areas have even expressed doubts on whether they would want to attract the handful of marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers allowed under the bill awaiting Quinn’s signature.

The lone exception is Fox Lake, which already has changed its zoning code that regulates where and how a marijuana dispensary would operate.

“Nobody on the board opposed it,” Fox Lake Mayor Donny Schmit said. “Everyone has either had a friend or family member with cancer or some other illness, so nobody opposed the concept of medical marijuana. We didn’t want to wait to the very end and scramble and not be prepared for it.”

Fox Lake’s proactive approach to a bill that other communities haven’t even contemplated was a product of opportunity, Schmit said. The board was in the process of updating its zoning code, and members felt it would be wise to include regulations for medical marijuana.

Any potential marijuana dispensary in Fox Lake would be classified “manufacture” and located away from the more-populated downtown and residential areas.

The village’s regulations are in line with the bill’s provisions that require any local government to create zoning rules to regulate the 22 cultivation centers and 60 dispensaries that would be geographically scattered throughout the state.

Local governments are required under the bill to keep either facility between 1,000 feet to 2,500 feet away from schools, day-care centers and residential areas.

Municipalities also would not be able to prohibit the cultivation or distribution of medical marijuana in their communities. The provision already has drawn some complaints from Chicago-area suburbs that fear they would not be able to deny the few dispensaries and cultivators allowed in the bill.

But in McHenry County, most communities aren’t even discussing the bill that would make Illinois the 20th state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana.

Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley wouldn’t entertain a discussion on any of the bill’s provisions until it becomes law. The City Council already has adopted a resolution that instructs Crystal Lake’s Planning and Zoning Commission to craft regulations only after medical marijuana becomes legal.

Quinn has said he is open-minded to the idea of legalizing the illicit drug for medical use, but has not indicated when he would make a decision.

The bill allows people with debilitating conditions, such as cancer, muscular dystrophy and Tourette syndrome, to receive 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks, with a doctor’s prescription.

“We haven’t begun the discussion,” Shepley said. “I think the issue is not ripe for the discussion at this point. No person should be required to do something that may later be unnecessary.”

Nearby Lake in the Hills adopted a similar resolution earlier this year. Dan Olson, the village’s community development director, said Lake in the Hills will do the necessary homework once officials have a legal obligation to do so.

“We have no desire to attract these facilities,” Olson said. “We would just want to make sure our regulations are in place.”

Officials in Huntley already have been approached about an interested marijuana cultivator from Batavia, but like their neighbors, they are uncertain whether they would want to attract medical marijuana businesses.

In McHenry, city staffers have decided they would wait to be approached by a person wanting to produce medical marijuana before starting zoning regulation changes.

“We don’t have any plans to address it at this time, in terms of zoning or otherwise,” McHenry City Administrator Derik Morefield said. “It’s not even on the radar.”

Medical marijuana in the United States:

• California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996.

• Since then, 18 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Source: The National Conference of State Legislatures

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