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La Grange tightens rules for medical marijuana sites

A medical marijuana dispensary will have a tougher time locating in La Grange with tighter restrictions approved for the zoning code.

The Village Board voted May 12 to allow a dispensary only in the village’s light industrial district. The original proposal also allowed the class of shops in commercial general service district, but not the central business district generally along La Grange Road.

About a dozen observers walked out after the vote and expressed disappointment.

“I think the dispensaries should be allowed if we’re talking about having a healthy community to promote all different situations and ideologies,” said Andrew Lipchik of La Grange, a senior at Lyons Township High School.

Another woman said few property choices would be available in the village’s two small industrial areas and that sick people won’t be helped by the tighter restrictions.

“It’s essentially a vote that says ‘not in my town,’” said Tanya Griffin of Western Springs, who proposed locating a dispensary in town.

Griffin said she was somewhat surprised at the board’s vote after talking with members by phone individually or in conference calls of no more than two elected officials to avoid violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

Representing an unnamed group of doctors, pharmacists and investors, Griffin proposed opening a dispensary in an office building at 120 E. Burlington Ave., which had been vacant for eight years. She said she will continue talking with other communities to find a site.

The board considered changes to the zoning code in response to a new state law for a pilot program. The measure allows 22 marijuana cultivation centers and distribution through 60 dispensaries for patients with certain medical conditions. One dispensary is permitted for the area covering Lyons, Lemont and Palos townships.

The law allows municipalities to further regulate a prospective dispensary’s location, but specifies it may not be next to a residential area or within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare center.

La Grange’s zoning amendment designates dispensaries as a special use requiring a permit and a hearing. One light industrial area borders Washington and Elm avenues and the other is northeast of Ogden Avenue and the Indiana Harbor Belt tracks.

Board members expressed sympathy for patients seeking relief from pain or other symptoms through the use of marijuana, but raised a number of objections as well.

“It’s conceivable the state in allowing the recreational use of marijuana could make it be sold at medical marijuana dispensaries,” said Jeffrey Nowak. “Chicago Magazine’s headline one year is that La Grange is one of the best places to live and a few years down the road we could be known as one of the best places to buy weed.”

Jim Palermo said the village has rightfully restricted certain activities, such as the sale of alcohol in bars or taverns, a ban on video poker machines and not allowing a pawn shop in town.

“There’s an ambiance and quality of life we need to protect,” Palermo said.

But Dave McCarty disagreed with overturning the Plan Commission’s recommendation and said the tougher restrictions are insensitive to those suffering and in need of medical marijuana.

“It’s a slap in the face to make people go to the industrial areas,” McCarty said.

McCarty was the lone vote against limiting dispensaries to industrial districts, but later sided with his colleagues to approve the zoning code amendment.

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