With a medical marijuana dispensary already in place in the city, Evanston has a leg up over other communities when sales for recreational use begin Jan. 1 of next year, officials said this week.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who sponsored the Illinois recreational marijuana law, told residents at an Eighth Ward community meeting July 30 that officials expect the establishment of separate dispensaries for recreational use “as the market place matures, but, initially, at the very beginning, what you are going to see is dual use,” with the medical dispensary playing both roles.

Evanston has one of the 55 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the state, which will be allowed to sell product for recreational use, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz noted, during a discussion of budget issues at the Evanston City Council meeting Aug. 5.

The City has been in contact with the owner of the dispensary, PharmaCannnis, which operates the dispensary at the Maple Self Park garage at 1804 Maple Ave., he said.

The company has expressed an interest in expanding the facility, so officials expect to come back to the City Council in fall with some recommended lease amendments on expansion of the space, Mr. Bobkiewicz told aldermen.

The City can apply a 3% sales tax on the recreation marijuana sales, Mr. Bobkiewicz told aldermen. “Our initial thinking is ‘Do not go 3%; it should be something lower,’ especially if the city of Chicago is at 3%.”

Officials are looking at holding a “Recreational Cannabis briefing” on Sept. 16 to go over the legislation, he said.

The City projected revenue of $141,000 a year based on a tax of the sale price per ounce of medical marijuana in the opening of the medical dispensary in 2015.

Once the new recreational marijuana law goes into effect, “it’s important to say we really have no idea,” how much money it will generate, Mr. Bobkiewicz told aldermen.

He said some early estimates provided by PharmaCannis depend on  many different factors. “At this juncture I’m not prepared to present a budget that includes any money for recreational cannabis, even if the City does put in for sales tax, which I hope it will,” he told aldermen. “We’re just going to have to wait through 2020 and see.”

“Certainly out of the gate we will be a place that people will come to purchase recreational cannabis,” he added, “and that we certainly will stand to make some money from this. I think PharmaCannis agrees with us and is looking to position themselves the best they can.”

Rep. Cassidy, whose 14th District includes a swatch of south Evanston, highlighted some of the features of the legislation and fielded questions from community members in a lively session at  the Eighth Ward community meeting at the Levy Community Center on July 30.

Opening her presentation, she said, “I did this for a lot of reasons, but most important because prohibition hasn’t worked. What we know in states around the country that have passed legalization – and they have done it prior to us via a ballot referendum…they’ve all been kind of industry-centric bills which have resulted in making a handful of millionaires in states but not really restoring any of the communities that the war on drugs have had an impact on.”

By contrast, Illinois law was done “in a slow and thoughtful and transparent way. We had dozens of town hall meetings, we had, I think 10 public hearings, hundreds of stakeholder meetings,”  Rep. Cassidy said. “I believe I have some 20,000 miles on my car just driving around the state to these meetings.”

 Some other points highlighted by Rep. Cassidy in her talk:

• “It will take about five years for a fully mature cannabis marketplace in Illinois. Our estimates at maturity are for about $500 million in tax revenues. Our estimate this year is for $42 million of revenue.”

• “Our bill has an automatic and semi- automatic expungement process that will impact 770,000 criminal records in the state of Illinois. The greatest number up to this point was 50,000, and that’s in the state of California. So we just decided to go all in on clearing records. So that is every Class 4 felony and below that will be eligible for expungement.

• Currently, “If you have a concept –maybe your grandmother’s brownies are amazing and you want to infuse those brownies and bring them to market under the current system—unless you have a relationship with one of the cultivation center owners, your product is never going to see the light of day. So we created an infusion license, so there is an opportunity to bring more entrepreneurship and innovation into the industry. You go to dispensaries in other states; there is such an array of products available. Whereas here, each product line has one or two edibles or two patches or topicals. We want to make sure that we can become a hub for innovation in Illinois.”

 • Looking at legalization elsewhere, “usage rates don’t change. The people who are using this product today are the same people that are going to be using it later. The reality is [with legalization] we see decreases among youths’ usage and we see a slight increase among people over 50. The reason behind that [for older people] is pretty obvious—first of all this is a demographic pretty familiar with the product, it’s the most law-abiding demographic, and my knees hurt,” Ms. Cassidy explained.

• The new law does not make it legal to smoke cannabis in public or while operating a motor vehicle.  Landlords can bar consumption of cannabis on premises. “It’s the same as having no-smoking, no pets or any of those things.”

• The bill contains a provision for local communities to establish marijuana lounges. “This is not a statewide answer but what we’ve seen around the country is it has been really hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all,” she said. “So what we’ve done is enable municipal local government to allow either a cannabis-related business, or if you have a dispensary you can petition your local government to create an on-site consumption lounge in your facility.”

• The new law also contains an “opt-out” clause, which some communities such as Naperville have already taken steps to implement.

• “Naperville has a medical dispensary. It’s kind of amazing they’re doing that to a corporate neighbor,” Ms. Cassidy commented.

“I can’t imagine Evanston choosing to opt out. I don’t see that happening.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.