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Du Quoin city council debates: Should voters decide Du Quoin marijuana question?

By Renee Trappe
updated: 2/28/2020 4:50 PM

Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi wants residents to decide if marijuana businesses can set up shop in the city, by putting a binding referendum on the November general election ballot.

Alongi brought it up at Monday's city council meeting, but if he was expecting immediate support from city commissioners he didn't get it.

Instead, the council will go ahead with the public comment session on marijuana, set for 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 23 after a short city council meeting.

That doesn't mean the council might not reconsider a referendum. The deadline for Du Quoin to put an initiative on the Nov. 3 election ballot is Aug. 17.

Without a referendum, the decision will be made by the council. In southern Illinois a number of communities have rejected marijuana via a city council vote, Marion, Murphysboro and Steeleville among them.

Two of the five Du Quoin commissioners, Bob Karnes and Mike Ward, have indicated they oppose allowing marijuana businesses in Du Quoin on moral grounds. While both of them said it is unlikely they would vote against their consciences they also have said they are willing to hear what residents have to say.

"Several commissioners have said they can't vote for this," Alongi said. "This concerns me, because I was hoping they would be much more open - that there could be a separation between their personal feelings" and what is good for the city, he said.

Alongi has said while he is no fan of marijuana, he supports legalizing sales in Du Quoin because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes it would produce for the city. As well, he argues that since the Perry County Board has already approved marijuana sales, a distribution center could open just outside Du Quoin's borders that would bring no benefit to the city.

Commissioners Jill Kirkpatrick and Chuck Genesio have not publicly stated their positions, although Genesio said he expects people will decide the question based on their own personal principles and morals.

Alongi said it isn't politics that is driving his desire for a referendum, but a belief that a referendum is the best way to gauge what the majority of Du Quoin residents want. He expects the opponents of marijuana to come out in full force on March 23, while residents who support it or are ambivalent won't be as motivated to turn up.

"This is a huge decision," Alongi said Monday. "Do any of us really have a sense (of how a majority of residents feel)?"

Alongi said that roughly 3 to 1 of the residents who mention marijuana to him are in favor of allowing it in town. Genesio said roughly the same number of people who speak to him are opposed.

Alongi said all that probably demonstrates is that he and Genesio travel in different circles, and reiterated that a referendum would let residents speak for themselves.

"I have been a mayor who wants and asks the public for their opinion on important topics," Alongi said after the meeting. He likened this decision to when Prohibition was enacted in 1920. "This is one of those important issues that will be controversial. They (voters) need to have their voices heard."

The city's attorney, Aaron Atkins said from a legal standpoint, "I can see referring something of this magnitude to the people," but added the council would be within its rights to make the decision itself.

Other commissioners, however, said they are confident they can cast informed votes on the marijuana issue when the time comes, and argue that having to make tough decisions is part of what being a commissioner entails.

"I'm comfortable making a decision based on what we hear on March 23," Kirkpatrick said.

Genesio agreed that council is equipped to make the decision. Bob Karnes is on vacation and was not at the meeting.

Meanwhile, Atkins advised that if there were to be a referendum, voters should know ahead of time where a marijuana facility would be located in Du Quoin. Commissioners agreed they would forward the matter to the city's zoning commission after March 23.

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