Sesser, Ill. Is About to Get Lit – in More Ways Than One
Teamsters Local 50 Business Representative and Secretary Treasurer Jason Ashmore wears a lot of hats. In addition to advocating for his members, he’s also the mayor of Sesser, a small city of less than 2,000 people that just opened Illinois’ first legally-operating venue for public cannabis consumption.
“I definitely support it,” Ashmore said. “I had meetings with the other public officials here in town and of course the owner, Holly Roeder. We had a lot of good talks. We passed good, safe zoning regulations. We sent our police officers to a training so they could learn the new cannabis rules. We’re going to just use common sense and treat it like a bar, basically.”
The venue is called the Luna Lounge; it’s located in a building that used to house a bank and still has a vault. The lounge doesn’t sell cannabis, but it provides a place for residents to indulge if they bring their own.
“I don’t partake, but I went to their grand opening last Saturday,” Ashmore said. “I had a glass of water, listened to some music and had a really great time. As a mayor, I’m going to support local small businesses. It’s a legal business, and they have every right to open a business, same as everyone else does.”
Ashmore spent his formative career in public service to the State of Illinois, serving in roles at the Illinois Secretary of State, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Alexander County Housing Authority. He was first elected Sesser Mayor in 2013, but during his last re-election campaign, the cannabis lounge became an issue for his opponent. Ashmore said most Sesser residents weren’t opposed to the cannabis lounge after they learned about the proposal.
“We were very upfront and open throughout the whole process,” he said. “Everything was transparent, we made sure that we announced meetings and hearings in many different fashions – newspapers, newsletters, Facebook, etc. For public comment, we gave many options. Everyone had a chance to speak in favor of it or in opposition to it.”
Ashmore also said that conversations with law enforcement also informed his support for the venue.
“People who were opposed to it, some of them said it might bring in a ‘rough crowd,’” Ashmore said. “Talking with our police, other police departments, they believed – and I’m pretty sure we can all agree to this – that there would be more problems out of a bar than a weed lounge, because when people drink, they have more of a tendency to get violent than when they’re using cannabis.”
Ultimately enough residents agreed with him, and Ashmore was re-elected in a landslide last April. Outside of his mayoral duties, Ashmore is doggedly advocating for Teamsters in the public sector, transportation, and a wide variety of other industries. For this reason, he thinks it’s critically important that Illinois Cannabis workers join the Teamsters.
“We’re good for the cannabis industry because we work very hard for our members and we’re a very diversified union, so we’re able to address all of the different types of industry-specific issues, no matter what our members do for a living,” Ashmore said. “It makes us stronger, and overall, the Teamsters work well together. We know how to go out there, get good contracts and do right by our people.”