With the New Year bringing the arrival of legalized medical marijuana in Illinois, a Lake County task force recently released a set of model ordinances that a number of towns plan to use to figure out how marijuana cultivation and distribution facilities might fit into their zoning codes.
Catherine Czerniak, Lake Forest's director of community development, said the process, which involved a task force made up of representatives from more than 30 Lake County communities, was a welcome one.
"I thought the county taking the lead and pulling the municipalities together was very helpful, because it's a new issue," she said. "It gave us the chance to share information to make sure we had the accurate facts, and talk about how we're going to address these (centers) in our community."
The four-year pilot program will allow doctors to prescribe up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks to patients who have a debilitating medical condition.
The law allows for up to 60 dispensaries and 22 cultivation centers, to be spread out geographically across the state, so there's no guarantee that either will be showing up in any given town.
But Eric Waggoner, director of planning, building and development for the county, said towns needed to be ready just in case a store or growing center does open.
"What it does at the local level is provide local government the authority to enact, quote, 'reasonable zoning regulations,'" Waggoner said. "There is no guidance under the statute as to what constitutes reasonable. Each community has to make that decision itself."
Tom Chefalo, who serves as principal planner for Lake County and headed up the task force, said he researched the most effective laws in states that already have similar laws on the books, such as California, Colorado, Washington and Michigan.
The model from the county touched on hours of operation, parking and marijuana-related displays, among other things.
One of the key issues the task force addressed was security concerns, Waggoner said.
Neither cultivation nor distribution facilities should be located in a leased or multi-tenant building, according to the model ordinances, and dispensaries should be a minimum of 30 feet from all other property lines.
Further, the template from the county recommended that each center maintain adequate lighting, video surveillance and alarms.
The manager at each facility should check and approve security at the locations, the ordinance said.
Another thing the task force addressed was the signage for the facilities, which included size and type of displays allowed.
Under the model ordinances, stores won't be allowed to advertise anything depicting marijuana or paraphernalia, or use any language related to pot.
Basically, it will be limited to the store's address, Waggoner said, so that patients will be able to find the dispensary.
The state statute itself has buffer zones for places like schools and day care centers — dispensaries can't be located within 1,000 feet, and cultivation centers can't be located within 2,500 feet of either schools or day cares — but each town will have leeway in how they want to apply other restrictions.
Towns like Lake Zurich and Deerfield already have passed the issue along to their plan commissions, which will provide a recommendation to the board before a final approval.
"The regulations, I think, are designed to control to the greatest extent possibly — reasonably control — where the uses can be located," Lake Zurich Attorney Scott Uhler said.
Officials say they still have some time to figure it out.
With a number of things to finish at the state level — Chefalo touched on adoption of administrative rules and the implementation of a computerized system that will verify registration cards and track the sale of pot — officials said it likely would be months before any facilities open.
"We're looking more toward fall or early (2015) before these start working," Mundelein Police Chief Guenther said.