Antioch Council will consider expanding cannabis businesses in other parts of the city, approve amendments to ordinance, tabled cannabis tax

The two areas of Antioch where recreational marijuana related businesses are currently allowed to locate.

“I do not believe it’s in the city’s best interest to open it up for cannabis operations.” – Antioch Police Chief Brooks

By Allen Payton

During their meeting on Tuesday, May 12, 2020 the Antioch City Council approved amendments to the City’s cannabis business ordinance. But the council was divided on considering allowing them to locate in other parts of the city, right now.

Chief Tammany Brooks was asked to comment on the issue by City Attorney Thomas Smith.

“As the police chief, I would ask you to consider a very measured and thoughtful approach,” Brooks said. “I do not believe it’s in the city’s best interest to open it up for cannabis operations. It might lower the bar of some unscrupulous businesses to negatively impact the surrounding areas.”

“I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach,” he continued. “Those businesses that don’t have a store-front retail aspect to their business might be treated differently.”

“From what I’ve heard from different cannabis businesses, some of them have said quite frankly they’d like to be in areas that are safe for their parents to go to and not some back ally or industrial area,” said Kwame Reed, the City’s Director of Economic Development. “If there’s a consideration for them to go in an upscale shopping center that would be something to consider.”

“If you’d like to expand in some kind of measured fashion, we can form an ad hoc committee,” said Smith.

“Chief, I was hoping to get some feedback, I guess our hope, maybe my hope, having retail cannabis locations that were licensed, and regulated and watched over would diminish street sales,” said Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts. “Do you have any feedback on that? There’s a lot of people that believe cannabis can lead to more crime.”

“I’ll start by saying that the black market for marijuana is extremely strong,” Chief Brooks responded. “I’m speaking on behalf of my counterparts throughout the state.”

“I know price point, availability…we have not seen a reduction in illegal drug sales, due to the two dispensaries,” he continued. “Since they’ve opened, one of the dispensaries has had 25 calls for service, the other on W. 10th Street has had five calls for service. A lot of those calls have been from security personnel on site.”

Brooks also mentioned “a lot of traffic related complaints and disturbances, as well.”

The council then took up the matter.

“Items 1-3, by all means push forward. Item 4, I’m kind of a wait and see. That’s not a ‘no’ forever,” said Mayor Sean Wright. “We have unused space, correct?”

“We have entitled dispensaries that have not been opened,” said Community Development Director Forrest Ebbs. “Right now, I don’t see a rush to open up a wider district. That doesn’t say I won’t hear additional information about another area that we might open up and expand. But I don’t see an urgency in widening.”

“I think we need to look at opening up the overlay district,” said Councilman Lamar Thorpe. “The council is still in control of the process. Why did we do the overlay in northern Antioch which his home to some of the poorest.”

“I’m all for expanding the cannabis overlay,” he continued. “At some point we have to decide how many dispensaries are too many for our city.”

Reed spoke of a boutique-type cannabis business locating in an upscale shopping center.

“We’ve been very hard on these first four (cannabis businesses) that have come in,” said Councilwoman Monica Wilson. “I want to at least be open minded. I just don’t want to keep us so confined that we close ourself off to the market.”

“We just started these overlay districts, so I’m surprised we’re already talking about expanding it to the rest of the city,” said Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock. “What I’ve heard from the dispensary on 10th Street is that they don’t want more as that would affect their business. I don’t want to expand this.”

Motts responded, “I would not be opposed to what Councilwoman Wilson or what Attorney Smith said, about a sub-committee and a measured approach of other places in the community where they could locate. I wouldn’t be opposed to hearing back from the subcommittee. I wouldn’t support expanding it to the entire community.”

Thorpe then said, “What is before you, today is somewhat the recommendations of the ad hoc. The same people that painted doom and gloom keep painting that this is the wrong direction. The doom and gloom scenario that everyone painted did not happen. Continuing to move forward is kind of the appropriate…we are trying it. It hasn’t created the things that people said they aren’t going to do. It is them (the cannabis businesses) who are proactive in reaching out to the police. I’m pleased in the way the dispensaries are working, especially the one on Wilbur.”

“Everyone else is catching on and we need to maintain our competitive advantage,” he added.

Tabled Cannabis Business Tax

The council chose not to approve either a cannabis tax which would require a majority vote of the people. Both Ogorchock and Wright said the current operating agreements give the council more flexibility in dealing with the cannabis businesses in generating revenue for the city from them.

The meeting will be rebroadcast on Comcast local cable channel 24 on Thursday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m. or can be viewed on the City’s website.

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