Jeff Soenksen of The Dispensary speaks about recreational marijuana during Monday's Fulton City Council meeting. John Rohlf/Clinton Herald 

FULTON, Ill. — Despite voting against zoning a specific area of Fulton for recreational sale of marijuana, the Fulton City Council must still decide whether to allow cannabis businesses in the city of Fulton.

Illinois state law allows cannabis operations in all towns but allows towns to set specific zones for its sale or to prohibit its sale. Fulton City Council will vote later this year whether to allow or prohibit cannabis sales in Fulton.

During the Oct. 28 council meeting, Mayor Mike Ottens broke a 4-4 tie to defeat a motion to amend zoning laws and allow the sale of recreational marijuana in certain areas of town.

“Based upon guidance from the Illinois Municipal League, that was a vote to say we authorize the sale of marijuana but only in a specific area, which we will ask the zoning board to rezone for that,” Ottens said Monday. “As many of you know, that vote failed.

“So what is still on the table ... is, if the city of Fulton does not want recreational marijuana sales, there has to be a vote by a majority of the council that says we do not authorize recreational marijuana anywhere in the city,” Ottens said.

Fulton resident Cynthia Mead said she supports the city’s legalization of the sale of recreational marijuana. Recreational marijuana is coming to Fulton Jan. 1 whether residents want it to or not, Mead said. Neighboring cities and towns have said they intend to allow recreational marijuana in their communities

Allowing recreational sales in Fulton will boost the town’s revenues significantly, Mead said.

“People are going to come to Fulton, and they’re going to spend their money here,” Mead said. “I understand there are people who are morally opposed to selling recreational marijuana, and I understand. But one thing history has shown is that it’s impossible to legislate morality.

“Stopping the sale of this is not going to prevent it,” said Mead. “It’s still going to happen. Worse, stopping the sale means hundreds of thousands of dollars are going to go to neighboring towns, and we desperately need that revenue.”

Lucien Debatty presented a petition signed by 219 Fulton residents and over 500 individuals from surrounding communities who want cannabis sales in Fulton. Speaking on behalf of those who signed the petition, Debatty said that restricting the sales of cannabis in the city of Fulton and Whiteside County will create a vacuum which will be filled by the black market which will not verify ages of IDs or the safety of the product and will not bring any tax revenue, jobs or other benefits to the city.

“A vote in support of adult-use cannabis businesses is not a vote in support of cannabis,” Debatty said. “It, instead, is a vote in support of a reasonable approach to regulation which would benefit the city, which will benefit its residents and best protect public safety.

“At the end of the day, these cannabis products will be in this community regardless,” Debatty said. “If we refuse the regulated sales, we miss out on the additional benefits, including those property taxes for people that are moving here and want to purchase properties, income taxes, sales tax, licensing fees, tourism, the additional jobs and ... all of those additional benefits that are going to occur to the ancillary non-cannabis businesses. That’s lodging, food, gas, services, entertainment, construction, so on and so forth.

“I urge the council not to turn away a million dollars in tax revenue over the next five years,” Debatty said.

Fulton resident Kyle Folk said there are two types of people who want to see home values rise: people who will cash out and sell their homes and a city administrator hoping to gain more property tax revenue without calling it a tax hike.

“Think about it,” Folk said. “Your tax bill is a percentage of your assessments. Property values go up, you’re going to pay more in taxes. Are you getting more wages? No. But you’re going to pay more taxes by that increased value.

“So here’s a headline for you: City eyeing higher property taxes while hoping to bring more drug users to town,” Folk said.

“Let’s think critically here. When someone says higher property values, it really means higher taxes paid by everybody,” Folk said.

Resident Matt Halverson disagreed. He wants his property value to increase, he said, and believes the city is missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars it could use.

Issues in the city are not being addressed because the city doesn’t have the funds, Halverson said. If this is a moral issue, and if residents are concerned about making the town look bad, they should look at the number of liquor licenses and gambling licenses in town or consider the number of methamphetamine arrests made in the last two years in Fulton.

“It’s insane to pass up this money on a moral obligation when we’re not like a diamond sitting here,” Halverson said. “There’s things that need to be fixed in this town, and we’re just going to let it slide on moral grounds.

“Albany’s going to start fixing their town,” said Halverson. “Savanna’s going to start fixing their town. Morrison’s going to start fixing their town, and our town’s going to sit here and fall into rubble and disrepair like it has my whole life.”

River Bend School District Superintendent Darryl Hogue said the only funds the school district would receive is a countywide 1% facility tax, which is shared across every school in Whiteside County. He requested the city put up barriers between marijuana and children.

“A barrier could be a distance of another community,” Hogue said. “It could be the distance of another site. And if a community so chooses to sell, that is their choice.

“We have the opportunity to say no and to put that barrier up and make it that much more difficult for young people,” Hogue said. “In each of the states that have legalized marijuana, usage and issues at schools have increased. That’s a fact.

“The more marijuana, and the more ability to get that marijuana, the more children under the age of 21 will get that, legal or illegal. The usage goes up in these places where children are,” Hogue said.

Jeff Soenksen, general manager of The Dispensary, Fulton’s medicinal marijuana distributor, said the black market does not card children. The Dispensary asks for identification at the door and will catch fake IDs, ensuring that children do not have access to the substance, Soenksen said.

Adult use-cannabis is the law in Illinois and the industry accompanying it is moving forward, Soenksen said. “Only a very small number of these businesses will be operating statewide. There may not be another chance. This is the chance.

“Surrounding communities are waiting and hoping for this mistake so that they may take advantage of these limited opportunities and reap those benefits for many years to come,” said Soenksen. “These are real opportunities with real impact available now. City and county officials should think very carefully before denying their constituents and communities these real benefits based on the personal moral opinions of a few.

“It is certainly not the norm or an everyday occurrence for smaller cities and counties to have opportunities to reap millions in long term benefits from a new emerging industry,” said Soenksen. “And this is indeed a rare and exceptional opportunity that should be embraced.”

Fulton Mayor Mike Ottens recommended the city wait to vote on whether to legalize the sale of cannabis until after Whiteside County makes its decision.

During its next meeting, the Council will consider moving its previously canceled Dec. 23 meeting to Dec. 19.