ED council changes cannabis ordinance, opening door for more dispensaries

EAST DUBUQUE, Ill. — East Dubuque City Council members this week paved the way for additional cannabis dispensaries to potentially open within the city limits.

Council members voted, 5-1, to approve an amended ordinance reducing the minimum distance between licensed dispensaries from 15,000 feet to 5,000 feet. Council Member Tim Fluhr cast the lone vote against the change.

The previous ordinance was enacted at the request of the city’s only current dispensary, The Dispensary East Dubuque, which opened in May at 1709 Illinois 35 N. The minimum distance included in the ordinance precluded a second licensed dispensary from operating within the city limits, while the new ordinance could allow up to three, depending on the location of each business.

However, council members and proponents of the change emphasized that amending the ordinance does not guarantee that additional dispensaries will open. Interested dispensary owners must apply for a special-use permit and meet with the city’s zoning board, which then would make a recommendation to the council about whether to approve such a business.

“Changing the ordinance just means that we are getting an opportunity to present a business plan to grow our community downtown,” said East Dubuque resident Dave Sendt, who has had discussions with companies interested in opening a dispensary at 69 Sinsinawa Ave.

In addition to Sendt, council members also heard recently from Twila Ash, of Justice Cannabis Co., who said her company is interested in opening a dispensary in the city along U.S. 20.

Only two of the council members who approved the original ordinance in March still hold their positions — Randy Degenhardt, who is now the mayor in addition to retaining his council seat, and Robin Pearson.

Council members considered whether to modify the ordinance at multiple meetings this fall, tabling the question each time.

Dan Dolan, the owner of The Dispensary, has repeatedly asked the council to maintain the original ordinance. He did so again prior to the council’s vote at this week’s meeting, reiterating that he had been promised exclusivity by city staff when he expressed interest in opening his business.

Although the former ordinance did permit exceptions “depending on extenuating circumstances, at the sole discretion of the East Dubuque City Council,” Dolan and City Manager Loras Herrig both noted previously that that clause was intended for local residents who secured a dispensary license.

Dolan said that exception was made with the understanding that it would not be utilized for local residents who invest with a nonlocal company. He also said he has spent heavily in the community with the launch of The Dispensary and plans to continue giving back.

“As I told you the first time that I came into this room, I am very motivated to make East Dubuque a regional destination location,” he said. “So, I’m asking for your support to leave the ordinance as it stands.”

Sendt also addressed the council, touting the financial benefits that additional dispensaries could bring to the city.

“I’m looking at doing more than just partnering with a dispensary. I’m looking at making downtown East Dubuque develop into something that we want to see, and that’s traffic in our city, that’s people in our city, (and) that’s increasing revenue in our city,” he said.

East Dubuque receives regular sales tax and an additional 3% excise tax from sales at any dispensaries in the city limits. For example, for sales in July at The Dispensary, East Dubuque received $18,719 in tax revenue, which equates to the business having almost $625,000 in sales that month.

Council members’ vote to change the ordinance followed a closed executive session. In addition to reducing the minimum distance from 15,000 to 5,000 feet, members also voted to remove the sentence permitting exceptions at the council’s discretion.

Following the meeting, Herrig said the council did so to indicate that “this is their final shot at the ordinance.”

“They’re removing the wording that allows for future exceptions,” he said. “They’re just basically saying, ‘It’s 5,000 feet, and we’re done.’”

After the meeting, Fluhr said he did not see the need for additional dispensaries in East Dubuque. He personally is not in favor of cannabis and feels the city “could do better” in terms of the businesses it seeks to attract.

“We have (a dispensary) already in town. I mean, how many more do we need?” he asked. “Is that the best thing for our little town of 1,700 people? I don’t think so.”

After the meeting, Council Member Brett Muir described his vote in favor of amending the ordinance as a “hard decision.”

“In the end, it came down to what’s best for the city, and revenue is good for the city,” he said.

Council Member Jeff Burgmeier emphasized that city officials will have the chance to review and ask questions of potential dispensary owners before granting approval.

“We just felt as a (council) that we needed to make that change for the opportunity to bring more businesses into East Dubuque,” he said. “It gives people the opportunity to come present themselves to us, and then at that point, we would make the decision.”