Path cleared for 2023 Waukegan cannabis dispensary opening; spending sales tax revenue on ‘racial inequalities’ remains at issue

Waukegan’s first cannabis dispensary is now on course to open early next year, but how the city will spend the potential $500,000 annually generated by the business in sales taxes remains to be determined.

The City Council voted 8-1 during a virtual meeting Tuesday to approve a conditional use permit for World of Weed, Inc., to operate its dispensary on Waukegan Road near the Fountain Square shopping center, giving the business what it needs to begin readying its building.

Though approval of the dispensary, which will be known as Ivy Hall and operated by World of Weed, did not appear in doubt from the time the Waukegan Planning & Zoning Commission recommended the permit to the council Dec. 9, the use of the tax revenue has been another matter.

At both the commission meeting and during the council’s Community Development Committee meeting Jan. 3, Andrew Scott, an attorney representing World of Weed, said the dispensary anticipated annual sales between $8 million and $10 million, with taxes to the city between $400,000 and $500,000.

During the committee meeting, Ald. Lynn Florian, 8th Ward, said she wanted the city’s share of the cannabis sales earmarked to benefit the city’s minority community. After the Jan. 3 council meeting, which occurred later the same evening, she was more specific.

Though she initially talked about reparations during the committee meeting two weeks ago, Florian said she has since learned it is a “loaded word” which could lead to litigation against the city. She wants to avoid that, while helping impacted members of the community.

“We should consider earmarking these funds, because this law was intended to try to address racial inequalities as a result of the war on drugs,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting. “This would be a perfect segue into putting these funds toward building our minority community that has been affected by this and by other racial inequities.”

As Florian questioned whether amending the conditional use permit was the way to assure the desired earmark or finding a different time to achieve the same goal, Mayor Ann Taylor answered. Taylor said World of Weed would be making an investment in the community.

“That’s something I think we can do at a different time,” Taylor said. “It doesn’t have to be part of this. They will have community money available as well,” she added, referring to the dispensary. “We would have to discuss all that, but it is not part of this particular vote.”

Not happy with the lack of clarity, Florian said after the meeting she wants to see something specific go to the minority community which was adversely impacted by the war on drugs. She said Taylor and city attorney Stewart Weiss recommended against the earmark at this time.

“I decided to let them do it their way,” Florian said afterward.

Taylor said after the meeting said she was looking forward to finding appropriate ways to utilize the revenue from the dispensary for the community, though she had no intention of being a customer herself.

“If they’re waiting for my money, they’re going to go broke,” she said. “This is something the aldermen will decide,” she added, regarding the ultimate use of the tax revenue from Ivy Hall.

Ald. Edith Newsome, 5th Ward, cast the lone negative vote. Florian was the only council member to speak during the discussion on Ivy Hall. No one else added an opinion or the rationale for their decision.

With recreational cannabis illegal in Wisconsin, Ivy Hall will be the closest Illinois dispensary to the state line, approximately 10 miles away. Scott said the proximity to Wisconsin is part of the sales projection. Other Lake County dispensaries are in Mundelein, Highwood, Highland Park, Buffalo Grove and Wauconda.

When Ivy Hall opens, it will operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, according to the conditional use permit.

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