CORRECTED: More dispensaries in East Dubuque? Council considers pitch to relax rules

CORRECTED: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated that Dave Sendt aimed to open a dispensary himself. 

EAST DUBUQUE, Ill. — Should City Council members alter an ordinance to potentially allow more than one cannabis dispensary in East Dubuque?

The question emerged again at this week’s council meeting, though no decisions were made.

Resident Dave Sendt urged council members to amend the city’s existing ordinance, which requires a 15,000-foot distance between dispensaries, precluding a second one within city limits. The Dispensary East Dubuque, 1709 Illinois 35 N, opened in May.

But Sendt, a lifelong East Dubuque resident, said he has had discussions with companies interested in opening a dispensary at 69 Sinsinawa Ave. He purchased the condemned property from the city for $50 in August.

“The way the ordinance is currently written, it causes exclusivity,” he told council members. “In business, there shouldn’t be exclusive rights. There should be the ability to look and see where there is opportunity.”

Sendt does not have a state license to operate a dispensary, but he said he invested heavily in developing his property and learned how much more money it would take to open one.. He told the Telegraph Herald that he has no official outside partners currently and that he was hesitant to move forward until City Council members decide if they would amend the ordinance.

But Dan Dolan, the owner of The Dispensary East Dubuque, argued that he opened the business in the city because of the exclusivity.

“I came and said, ‘I have one condition: I’d like exclusivity,’” he said. “I was looking at several towns. (City Manager) Loras (Herrig) was the first one to say, ‘I’ll take that deal.’ I’m asking to maintain the rule because we sat down and agreed on this.”

Herrig said the understanding regarding the 15,000-foot restriction in the ordinance always has been that it could be changed if a local businessperson wanted to open an additional dispensary.

“The intent was to leave it open in case a local wanted to do this,” he said. “Legally, we couldn’t say that. But that was the thought.”

Dolan acknowledged that, but he differentiated between a local resident gaining a license and investing in one.

“I understood a future City Council could change it,” he said. “It was set up so it couldn’t be gamed, so a local person couldn’t have a small percentage of an ownership. I took that risk and agreed to that up front. … We’ve been open for six months now. To me, we’re barely getting there. But we’re growing aggressively all the time.”

Herrig said council members eventually will have to indicate whether they are open to amending the ordinance because several other businesses have indicated an interest in opening dispensaries in East Dubuque.

“I am actively talking to other businesses who have licenses and want to come to East Dubuque,” he said. “This won’t be the last discussion. If we don’t change it now, you’re going to have somebody else show up at some point. These guys are trying to get their due diligence done, so they know ‘If the lawsuits do get through, can I come to East Dubuque?’”

The State of Illinois’ process by which it scores applications to enter the lottery for dispensary licenses is currently tied up in court, with lawsuits by many would-be dispensary companies.

In conversations with interested businesses, Herrig said he has been told that East Dubuque’s proximity to other states make it a good location for any such business.

River Bluff Collective currently operates a cannabidiol business in East Dubuque. But co-owner D.J. Loeffelholz said his family business hopes soon to open a cannabis dispensary along with a cultivation center in East Dubuque.

“The future of East Dubuque, cannabis definitely needs to be a part of it,” he said. “We want to make sure it comes here thoughtfully. … Iowa will regulate cannabis. It’s going to happen sooner than later. Our competitive advantage could be gone in three or four years.”

Loeffelholz, born and raised in East Dubuque, recommended that council members consider what any future applicant will commit to offering the community.

Herrig said council members’ authority to amend the ordinance does give them a lot to bargain with.

“When a bar wants to open, you don’t really get to say, ‘What are you going to do for East Dubuque?’” Herrig said. “They go, and they fill out an application. With this, you do have the ability to do that.”

To that end, Sendt provided a lengthy list of community service and fundraising he had done for the community, promising more. Dolan also promised to give back substantially to the community.

During the meeting, only a few council members commented on the issue.

Council Member Jeff Burgmeier indicated that allowing more dispensaries could help expand business generally downtown and bring people back.

“Amongst all the improvements, we need families to move here,” he said. “This could do that. I would want to look at this 15,000 feet. It could be adjusted, taken away. But we need to have further discussion as a City Council to make sure we’re on the same page.”

Council Member Robin Pearson said she would like to see more details of Sendt’s plan and that she looked forward to hearing pitches from interested businesses about how they would benefit the city.

Ultimately, council members tabled the discussion, as City Attorney Terry Kurt indicated he wished to hold a closed session with members before they vote.