News Local/State

Champaign County Board Sends Rural Cannabis Businesses Proposals Back To Committee

Champaign County seal, displayed in the Champaign County Boardroom.

Seal of Champaign County, displayed in the County Boardroom at the Brookens Administrative Center in Urbana. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

Champaign County board members will take another look at whether to allow or prohibit cannabis businesses in unincorporated areas --- with an eye toward a possible compromise.

The Champaign County Board split along party lines in its debate over whether to ban cannabis businesses in rural areas. Democrats from Champaign and Urbana opposed the ban, while the county board’s mostly rural Republicans said their constituents don’t want a cannabis dispensary nearby.

Republican Jodi Eisenmann singled out the unincorporated town of Penfield, a few miles from where she grew up, as a place that’s not ready to deal with problems that a nearby cannabis dispensary could cause. She said the tiny community has few businesses to begin with, and that sheriff’s deputies would have to drive for miles to reach them if an emergency arose. Eisenmann said residents there would find a cannabis dispensary potentially overwhelming if one opened up in their area.

“They don’t want it in Penfield,” said Eisenmann. “They don’t want it in the unincorporated areas. So I’m just asking you who live in towns, who are not representing these people, to please stop and listen to what the people want.”

Eisenmann and other Republicans argued that the county should wait to see how Champaign and Urbana handled any problems with their cannabis businesses before allowing them in unincorporated areas.

It was Urbana Democrat Pranjal Vachaspati who suggested a compromise.

“Just because we ban dispensaries, it doesn’t mean we have to ban everything related to the whole cannabis industry, right?” said Vachaspati. He said he could support such a move, in part because he thought the likelihood of a dispensary opening in a rural area would be low. (Republicans challenged this, saying that taxes on cannabis businesses would be lower in rural areas than in Champaign and Urbana).

Banning cannabis dispensaries alone would still allow cannabis growers, processors and transporters to operate in rural areas.

The county board voted to send the cannabis issue back to its Environment and Land Use Committee (ELUC for short) for reconsideration. The committee, meeting on November 7 with one Democratic member absent, had produced tie votes on a proposal to permit cannabis businesses and another to prohibit them.

Eisenmann, fellow Republican Jim McGuire and Democrat Connie Dillard-Myers voted against the move to send the issue back to committee. But ELUC’s Republican chairman, Aaron Esry, says a compromise might be possible.  

“I think maybe both sides were maybe guilty of not coming to the middle,” said Esry.

Also on Thursday night, Pranjal Vachaspati announced his resignation from the Champaign County Board at the end of the meeting. The computer science engineer says he’s receiving his Ph. D. from the University of Illinois this winter, and has accepted a job in Boston with tech giant Google. Vachaspati was appointed to the county board about a year and a half ago, and was elected to a four-year term in 2018.