Suburban movements fight for and against selling marijuana in communities

Chicago area suburbs considering whether to allow marijuana sales within municipal boundaries have encountered efforts from residents on both sides of the issue:

An “Opt Out” movement that began in Naperville has spawned similar efforts in several other communities across the North, Northwest and West suburbs, pleading with city councils and village boards to ban the sales of adult-use marijuana within their boundaries…

An “Opt In” movement, though in some cases less overtly organized or connected, is present in many places, too, and just as passionate about its message that recreational marijuana stores should be allowed…

At the heart of the opt out effort, supporters say, is a desire to protect children from the potential harms of normalized marijuana use..

Supporters promote the value of potential tax revenue for municipal projects and point out marijuana use and possession will be legal no matter where the stores set up.

Three quick thoughts:

1. It sounds like the speed by which these efforts have coalesced across suburbs is partly attributable to social media. Through different platforms, it is relatively easy to promote a particular message and alert supporters about local meetings.

2. Pitting the safety of children versus potential revenue for suburbs pits important suburban values against each other. Arguably, the suburbs are all about kids: the whole structure is set up to help them get ahead, to do better than their parents, to have good educational opportunities within a safe and family-friendly environment. At the same time, budgets are tight in many suburbs and extra revenue could help provide all sorts of civic goods (including reducing the tax burdens of residents). Which argument wins out may depend on how the suburb sees itself.

3. It is hard to know at this point where the dispensaries might be located, with or without decisions made by individual communities. At first, Illinois will award 75 licenses. Given the population of the Chicago region plus the wealth present in numerous suburban communities, where will firms want to open shop? Is it as simple as going for the wealthiest customers within a certain radius of the store or are there other considerations of the best locations for marijuana dispensaries?

Two possible dytopias I could envision

Recently in a class, we had a brief discussion about which dystopia we thought was most likely in the future. I made the case for one particular version when thinking of some of the classic 20th century dystopian texts and later thought about another I could see happening:

1. Out of the options provided by books like Fahrenheit 451, A Brave New World, 1984, and Lord of the Flies, given current conditions I would go with A Brave New World. With the sense of loneliness, alienation, and inequality that many in the world feel plus the use of antidepressants, opioids, and drugs, the option of taking drugs to blissfully go about day by day seems the most realistic.

2. As I thought about it a little more, I could imagine a different scenario that is in some different cultural texts but that often comes about because of some natural disaster or major conflict: the fragmentation of nation-states into much smaller collectives that simply cannot on their own do what is needed to the standard of life that most developed nations are used to. Imagine the United States splinters into something like twelve different countries; keeping all of the infrastructure, technology, trade, and complexity together would be very difficult.

These different visions of dystopia are among a range of options. If the collapse of modern civilization does happen would it be because of a truly black swan occurrence or the steady accumulation of small but thorny issues? I suspect which dystopias we see are more likely depends on current conditions and trends.

Marijuana sales viewed as hurting family-friendly suburbs, Naperville edition

Tuesday night the Naperville City Council voted against allowing marijuana dispensaries to locate within the suburb:

Naperville City Council members voted 6-3 Tuesday to opt out of recreational marijuana sales within city limits, and directed staff to come back with information on a potential referendum question for council consideration.

The decision to opt out of recreational pot sales came several hours after hundreds of people began packing the Naperville City Council chambers as residents and non-residents waited their turn to comment on the issue of whether to allow the retail sale of pot. The discussion on marijuana sales brought 238 people to sign up for public comment on the topic — a vast majority speaking in favor of opting out while wearing white and orange “opt out” shirts.

Over the past couple weeks, the group was organized to rally and lobby city council members to keep recreational cannabis dispensaries out of Naperville. At the same time, residents in support of retail marijuana sales have circulated a survey on the issue.

People who asked city council to opt out Tuesday night are concerned recreational pot dispensaries would lead to increased availability to children and would hurt the “family friendly” brand of Naperville.

This is not a surprise. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the likelihood that wealthier suburbs would not want to sully their brand by allowing marijuana sales. A community like Naperville has a reputation to protect: it is large, wealthy, has a vibrant downtown, highly-rated school districts, and acres upon acres of single-family homes. While marijuana sales may do little to affect behavior in a community of over 140,000 residents, this is about an image. Not too long ago, the vibrant downtown presented a similar issue: alcohol-related incidents were getting out of hand and the city responded.

At the same time, Naperville could change its mind later. Perhaps the dispensaries will not cause issue in similar communities. Perhaps the city will want the extra sales tax revenue. Perhaps the group that turned up in large numbers in front of the City Council to opt out will fade away and advocates will win the day. But, at least for now, Naperville wants to – and to be honest, does not need to look for quick money or be on the leading edge of this – protect its brand.

More broadly, how long until marijuana sales and use becomes normal fare in the American suburbs? For decades, some claimed the suburbs makes people conservative: they want to protect their families and homes. However, the political tides of suburbia have turned (including in DuPage County as well as in Naperville) and attitudes toward marijuana and other drugs have changed.

Suburbs do not want to sully their character by allowing marijuana sales

Selling marijuana may soon be legal in Illinois but this does not mean suburbs necessarily want to be places where this happens:

Naperville, Lake Barrington and Bloomingdale plan to officially ban sales, Libertyville leans toward the same and the mayor of Batavia said he will issue a veto if necessary.

Des Plaines officials have expressed concerns and are doing more research before deciding, which also will happen in Lincolnshire and Bartlett.

To date, only South Elgin and Elburn said they are OK with allowing one marijuana retail store…

Municipalities can choose to not allow marijuana stores within their boundaries, or can enact “reasonable” zoning ordinances and regulate how many and where they are located. That can include minimum distances from “sensitive” locations such as colleges and universities, the law states.

Imagine a suburban landscape starting in January where marijuana is primarily sold in communities that are not as wealthy and/or white. Does this lessen their reputation and bolster the status of communities that do not allow sales?

It will be interesting to see if the communities that are now saying no continue to hold out against marijuana retailers in order to preserve a particular character. The carrot being offered is extra sales tax revenue that municipalities can collect. A wealthier suburb might see adjacent communities benefiting from extra funds and decide they want a cut of it. Or, perhaps they do not see that other suburbs are viewed negatively because they allow marijuana sales so they decide to jump in.

In one decade, major suburban areas go from lowest drug overdose rates to highest

A new report details the rise of drug overdose deaths in suburbs:

Released Wednesday, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2017 County Health Rankings and an accompanying report analyze county-level data from all 50 states on more than 30 public health outcomes and behaviors. The report finds there’s been a clear flip in the geography of addiction: One decade ago, large suburban areas experienced the lowest rates of premature deaths due to drug overdoses. In 2015, they had the highest.

The Johnson Foundation’s analysis doesn’t pinpoint which counties experienced the most dramatic gains in drug-induced death. What it does is rank every county in the U.S., by state, using data that reflects local health conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, as well as measures that can predict health outcomes, including teen birth, smoking rates, and grocery store access…

Comparing those numbers to the Johnson Foundation report, I found startling disconnects between deadly drug problems and places that have an otherwise fairly “healthy” facade. For example, Essex County ranks sixth out of the 14 counties in the Bay State by the new report—middle-of-the-road when it comes to the chronic health conditions that normally wave red flags for public health researchers. Yet it’s increasingly afflicted by drug-related deaths.

On the fringes of Cincinnati, Boone County, Kentucky, ranks first out of 120 across its state on all other health rankings. As in Essex County, rates of diabetes, smoking, and teen births are relatively low; poverty is suppressed, and employment is solid. Yet a look at CDC data shows county saw its drug-related death rate leap from 26 in 2010 to nearly 46 in 2015. Ranked smack in the middle of Ohio’s 88 counties and also included in the Cincinnati metro area, Clermont County saw a similar leap. Another example: Clay County, part of the Jacksonville, Florida, metro area, is 11th of the Sunshine State’s 67 counties. But drug-related deaths increased from 14 in 2010 to 23 in 2015.

It has been interesting thus far and it will continue to be interesting to observe how this is treated by the media, government, and public. This would be a good case for studying how a social problem develops: American society is so large that not everything can receive the attention it deserves. For example, how do the reactions to suburban drugs differ to how Americans treat drug use in cities (or rural areas which rarely get any attention)? How is the drug use explained: as part of criminal activity, irresponsibility, broken down homes and/or neighborhoods, wealth, or addiction? Because these deaths are happening to suburbanites – who as this article notes, are supposed to be healthier and often are – the story will be different.

LA suburbs welcome raves for their economic benefits

Suburbs aren’t usually known for wanting to host raucous music events but the economic benefits are hard to resist for some Los Angeles suburbs:

All of the region’s biggest electronic dance music festivals are now held deep in the suburbs and exurbs of Southern California, centered in San Bernardino County. There, the rave scene has been largely welcomed by government officials and local businesses hoping for an economic boost from the large crowds.

But many of the problems that dogged the concert in L.A. — rampant drug use, overdose deaths and overwhelmed emergency rooms — have persisted…

In the Inland Empire, rave organizers have tapped large venues that can hold more concertgoers…

The debate over rave safety has largely focused on whether government agencies should allow the concerts to be held in publicly owned spaces. Some emergency room doctors have called for such a ban, saying hospitals are overwhelmed by drug overdose patients after raves.

Many suburbs are looking for ways to bring in more revenue through the arts events, whether that be art, theater, music, or some other form of creative expression. The primary advantage of such events is that they are temporary: vendors and people descend for a limited amount of time and money is generated. However, suburbs usually don’t take too kindly to noise, damage from a lot of concertgoers, and drug use and drug-related deaths. Suburbs tend to want to promote themselves as safe and family friendly.

Thus, we get a set of trade-offs: communities that need money versus typical suburban propriety. I would imagine the drug-related deaths will scare off more suburbs even as many communities look to bring in more money through similar events.

Studying suburban, middle-class drug dealers

A new book from two sociologists details the lives of suburban drug dealers in Georgia:

But drug users and sellers are busy in city suburbs, too. And many of the sellers are teenagers. That’s according to a newly published sociological study focusing on why middle-class, suburban youth get involved in the drug business.

The study was conducted in a wealthy metro Atlanta suburb.

Authors Scott Jacques and Richard Wright wrote the resulting book called “Code of the Suburb:  Inside the World of Young Middle-Class Drug Dealers.”…

Jacques interviewed some 30 young drug dealers for the book – many of them high school friends of his.

Even with plenty of evidence that drug use is a regular feature of suburban life (illustrated by the heroin outbreak in the Chicago suburbs in the last year or two), such deviance is often associated with cities and lower-class residents. This reminds me of the classic study “The Saints and the Roughnecks.” Two groups of delinquent boys in a town are treated differently by social class: despite similar rates of delinquency, the higher class boys were not arrested and it was expected that they would grow out of the behavior and contribute positively to society as adults. In contrast, the lower class boys were punished more harshly and took on the expectations the community had for them as delinquents.