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Ottawa residents share thoughts on marijuana with council

Zoning ordinance still in the works

Marijuana legalization nears closer and closer but Ottawa is still working out the details about where potential marijuana businesses should be located.

The City Council met with the Plan Commission on Thursday night to talk about a zoning ordinance for those looking to sell in the city’s limits, but the crowd of around 25 in attendance were more interested in sharing their thoughts of whether it should be sold at all.

Plan Commission Chairman Brent Barron said he reviewed the city’s proposed ordinance and asked for further clarification over what zones should be allowable for potential businesses. Additionally, the ordinance states businesses that produce the drug must be kept 1,500 feet away from residential areas while dispensaries must only be 250 feet away. 

Barron suggested a consistent number for both may be better.

Marijuana facilities must also be kept 1,500 feet away from schools, Barron said when asked.

He also suggested wording be included to dictate what the signs for facilities should look like whether it be a bright sign or a small green cross, as one of the biggest complaints he’s heard in the past regards the signs allowed for slot parlors.

The City Council needs to have an ordinance put together before the new year otherwise if a potential business comes to Ottawa with a building lease in-hand, they could set up shop somewhere that the city is less keen on hosting a marijuana facility.

It’s unclear how many potential businesses could open in the area, but Commissioner James Less suggested it could be around three for a multi-county region. This number would exclude medical marijuana facilities, such as the already established PharmaCannis in Ottawa, which automatically qualifies for recreational sale.

Feuding philosophies on marijuana

Plan Commissioner Todd Volker was against the ordinance altogether and echoed thoughts he previously shared at a recent City Council meeting.

“If you have more legal marijuana, you’re giving more addiction to Ottawa,” Volker said.

“Even though this might bring a bit of cash infusion to the town at the start, in the long term taxpayers suffer because it’s more cost in terms of public health,” he added.

Retired Ottawa High School Teacher Brian Huebner also expressed concern saying it came to the area originally for its “family-friendly” environment.

“To me, this is an attractive town for families and by having stores like that it’s going to make us one of those other places,” Huebner said.

Mayor Dan Aussem responded to Volker and said the state has already approved legalization and those that will likely use the substance will do so regardless in Ottawa.

“All the things you say, if they happen, they are going to happen in Ottawa regardless of whether or not we have an ordinance restricting where a facility goes,” Aussem said.

Volker disagreed saying more people will buy it if the city has a facility.

Barron attempted to bring the conversation back to the issues of zoning but others continued to express concern with sales in the community with one asking if the City Council was already in support of selling marijuana.

Aussem said he believed the City Council was unified in allowing the sale of marijuana. No commissioner objected nor expressed a different view during the meeting.

Former Ottawa Commissioner and Police Chief Dale Baxter joined the discussion with his 27 years experience in law enforcement and said it’s a choice adults will have to make for themselves and shouldn’t be any more harmful to the community than alcohol.

Baxter was asked how enforcement will be able to police the substance and Baxter expects that won’t change from how it’s currently done.

“People drive under impairment. The majority of that is alcohol which you can test for, but you could be driving and sniffing airplane glue, 'Is there a test for that?,' ” Baxter said.

Baxter said police look for impaired driving signs and pull an individual over as they do for those who misuse legally prescribed prescriptions, the second most common substance causing driving impairment.

Ottawa Resident Katie Troccoli was one of the last to speak who said regardless of the community’s thoughts about using the drug, the state has made it legal.

“The people in this community that are going to use marijuana or aren’t going to use marijuana are adults and they have the opportunity to make those same decisions for themselves and for their children in how they teach them,” Troccoli said.

“Get over it. The prohibition is gone, we have to deal with an ordinance and how we’re going to handle it and law enforcement will figure out how they will handle it,” she added.

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