Deb Frank Feinen is the new mayor of Champaign, and as Seth Fein wrote earlier today, I think she’ll do a good job. Though I won’t say who I voted for, my opinion on her potential as a mayor changed at the debate hosted by Smile Politely and chamabanamoms.com. I thought she did a magnificent job of navigating the waters between being personable and business-like.
Speaking of that debate, though, there was one “incident” that sort of overshadowed the success of the event. It was a question by Fein about the legalization and smoking of marijuana. Without re-hashing what or why the question was asked to the extent that people dissected it in the comments, I want to re-visit the topic as it pertains to Champaign.
I’ll go on record for our new mayor and say that I have smoked weed from a bong. A lot of times. I lived in Urbana on High Street for two years in college (it was not a coincidence). Not so much anymore because I'm now a square. Anyway, despite this being a fairly family-friendly online publication, I don’t think marijuana use is all that controversial.
Alright, with that out of the way, let’s move on to the aftermath of that question. Feinen gave a pretty decent answer after scolding another adult for asking a question about mind-altering substances while at a bar that serves thousands of them daily. In short, she said that decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana “makes sense” to her and that with regards to legalization she probably won’t have to vote on that issue ever.
Totally reasonable stuff if you believe that Champaign shouldn’t have medical marijuana dispensaries (Urbana will have two!) or that a full-legalization bill isn’t nearing the table in the State House (it is!).
This is all very hypothetical at the moment, but it speaks to our new mayor being out of touch on issues that are or will be quite pressing, not only to this community but the state.
Let’s say that marijuana is legalized in the State of Illinois in 2016. All of a sudden there’s the need to decide if and how to open and allow marijuana facilities in the City of Champaign. How does the city benefit financially from having these facilities? Where do they go? How are they regulated?
These are things that Feinen should be thinking about. This isn’t advocating for the new mayor to make marijuana policy the top priority of her new regime. It’s just a simple fact that it’s time to get out of the Stone Age, here. Legalization is going to happen and it’d be a shame to have a mayor with regressive views when there's money on the table. Not wanting a dispensary or dispensaries in the city is regressive at this point. It’s shocking to me that Champaign is behind Urbana in bringing in a medical dispensary. It's literally saying "no" to money.
Actually, maybe it doesn’t shock me. Tom Kacich has done a good job of riling up old white people who HATE THE DRUGS with awesome, totally non-scare tactic anecdotes:
"With few state regulations on the books in 1996, when the drug at the center of so many Hollywood hits became legal for some to obtain, pot shops began popping up all over the state. San Jose had more than 100 itself — located in old strip malls and industrial office complexes, even near schools and residential areas," McGurk said.
Whoa, Tom. Pump the brakes.There were medical marijuana dispensaries in old strip malls near residential areas and schools? University Liquors is like three blocks from a school and is in a residential area. You don’t need a doctor’s note to get hammered there.
What about criminals robbing and stealing?
That's led many dispensaries to keep a lot of cash on hand. Combine that with a lot of product and you end up with a lot of thefts at dispensaries throughout California and Washington, officials in both states say.
You know who else has a lot of cash on hand? McDonald’s. Every bar in the city has lots of cash on hand. Banks have cash on hand. The paranoia for potential robberies because of dispensaries is fairly obscene. Especially if the police are going to anticipate crimes.
The bottom line here is that Deb Feinen truly needs to think about the way that marijuana will affect this city whether she thinks the topic is family friendly or not. It’s important for Feinen to start the conversation because the mayor has a voice. When the mayor speaks, it resonates more than when the City Manager or any other city employee utters a few sentences. It’s time for Champaign to be prepared for the inevitable, and that preparation comes with learning how to make a boatload of money for the city off of the regulation of marijuana.