KANKAKEE — By a one-vote margin, the Kankakee County Board on Tuesday voted against allowing marijuana sales outside the county's municipalities.
During a debate, opponents of marijuana shops warned that the drug is a gateway to other drugs and that it would send the wrong message to youth. Supporters argued it would provide much-needed tax revenue for county coffers.
The board voted 13-12 against allowing marijuana sales.
During public input, a number of residents, including students and educators, spoke in favor of banning marijuana sales.
As of Jan. 1, recreational marijuana becomes legal in Illinois for those 21 and older. Individual communities can vote to ban sales in their jurisdictions.
Member Robert Ellington-Snipes, D-Kankakee, said the board needed to stand up for the younger generation and not allow such sales. He rejected the argument the county needed the additional tax revenue.
If that is a good justification, Ellington-Snipes said, “We might as well start legalizing prostitution and taxing it.”
“Some things are totally immoral,” he said, noting he was Christian.
Member Jim Byrne, D-Bourbonnais, said while he had never smoked marijuana, he did not believe government should prevent adults from buying a legal product.
“It will be heavily regulated within the state for those adults who wish to purchase it,” Byrne said.
Darrel Smith, R-Bonfield, said his constituents were almost unanimously against allowing marijuana sales. In any case, he said, the money from such sales would bring only “paltry” revenue for the county.
To that, George Washington, D-Kankakee, responded, “No matter what the paltry sum is, the paltry sum could make a difference to maintain the county’s functions.”
The board’s vice chairman, Todd Sirois, R-Aroma Park, agreed. He said the county board did not bring about marijuana legalization, but must deal with it. He said the money could be helpful to a county that laid off sheriff’s deputies a few years ago.
“I had to walk past sheriff’s deputies picketing our board members because they were fearful of losing their jobs,” Sirois said.
He added the county had no assurance that the federal government would continue its contracts long term to house federal prisoners and immigrant detainees, which provide millions of dollars to the county every year.
“What happens if we lose the bed rental program? Does anyone have that answer?” he said.