Plan to open downtown pot sales, relax onerous cannabis zoning rules sent to the entire city council

The city council zoning committee on Wednesday approved Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to relax the city’s zoning requirements for cannabis businesses and allow drug retailing in much of downtown.

The ordinance aims to streamline the zoning process to attract a flood of new cannabis license winners, most of whom have gained a head start in the application process by qualifying as social equity candidates, a designation created by the state to enhance diversity in the white-dominated weed industry.

A snapshot of the proposal concedes that cannabis companies largely bypassed Chicago in the last licensing round, costing the city up to $ 13.5 million in lost revenue. Of Illinois’ 110 operational dispensaries, only 18 have opened in the state’s largest city.

During the state’s last “green rush” following the legalization of recreational weed, many existing pot companies that had a strong presence in Chicago did their business elsewhere. In the end, only seven stores opened here, although nearly five times as many as many could have.

“The dispensaries and the cannabis companies have chosen to go to the suburbs instead of staying in the city”, admitted the political adviser to the mayor Will Shih.

As well as opening up many more properties to cannabis operators, the proposal would eliminate the city’s seven cannabis zones and their underlying license caps and remove a related zoning lottery.

This would notably open up much of the city center to the sale of weeds, attacking an “exclusion zone” for which Lightfoot had previously fought and defended.

“We’re not turning Michigan Avenue into a pot heaven,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times in January, when downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42sd) introduced an ordinance that would have completely nullified the area.

It currently stretches from Division Street to the north, Van Buren to the south, and Lake Michigan to the east. The western boundary is State Street in River North and the South Branch of the Chicago River in the Loop.

The new proposal would reduce Division sales to Van Buren between the state and Michigan, with the pot-free zone expanding to 16e Michigan Street. Sales would also be banned from Ohio to Illinois streets between Michigan and Navy Pier.

The city’s current cannabis ‘exclusion zone’ (left) and a proposal for an update.

The new zoning plan, which was originally presented in July and revised ahead of the meeting, sparked a long discussion among aldermen, many of whom sought ways to control the state’s social equity efforts and better accommodate those who rightly fit the bill.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15e) twice attempted to delay the vote on the ordinance after complaining that he and his colleagues only saw the revised language 90 minutes before the zoning meeting. Lopez insisted that “members of this committee should not be accused of acting just because people say the postponement will hurt social equity candidates.”

“These people were hurt by this process from the start,” he added. “When we were here two years ago on city council at a zoning meeting for over 12 hours trying to get it right, even though we raised objections that our friends in Springfield told us we didn’t ‘had nothing to question, idea what we were talking about and trusting them because everything was going to be okay.

“Two years later, nothing is right with social equity. Two years later, they still can’t get it right in Springfield. And here we are now rushing to make it happen in a way that will not help those most affected by oppressive marijuana enforcement laws. “

The state’s efforts to issue new cannabis licenses, namely those for pot stores, continue to be mired in controversy and uncertainty.

Nonetheless, the city is rushing to make changes to accommodate the designated winners of 185 upcoming dispensary licenses, which are yet to be issued due to a judge’s order in a lawsuit in courses in Cook County. Additionally, state officials on Friday admitted to making mistakes in administering one of three recent lotteries for pottery store permits and announced another to include falsely excluded businesses.

Of the 185 licenses that remain pending, 119 are designated in an area that includes Chicago, offering the city the opportunity to become a “pot paradise” after all.

The full city council is expected to consider the proposal on Tuesday.

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