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Plan To Let Chicagoans Smoke Weed In Bring-Your-Own-Pot Smoke Shops Delayed For Now

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly said he doesn’t see how any shop will be able to profit with the city's proposed restrictions and upfront costs.

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CITY HALL — A vote on a proposed ordinance that would establish Chicago’s first on-site weed consumption lounges was delayed indefinitely in committee Wednesday.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), who chaired the Committee on License and Consumer Protection in chairwoman Emma Mitts (37th) absence, said he delayed the vote because Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s City Council floor leader, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), wasn’t present. Villegas was in the chamber during the meeting but left.

Later in the afternoon, The Daily Line reported that Ald. Villegas said there were enough votes to advance the proposed ordinance out of committee, but he had scheduled commitments and the vote wouldn’t happen on Wednesday.

There is no requirement for the Mayor’s floor-leader to be present for a vote.

Mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said the goal of the proposed ordinance is to create a safe space to consume cannabis.

“We are confident that we had and still do have the votes to pass this ordinance,” Huffman said. “Based on what we heard today, we will continue working with City Council members to refine the ordinance by working within the confines of the state statute.”

The ordinance would allow people to smoke weed or an ingest an edible only at retail tobacco smoke shops which derive 80 percent of their revenue from the sale of tobacco products.

Rosa Escareno, commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, told aldermen there are only 42 shops citywide that meet that standard, and most of them are on the city’s North Side. If approved, the ordinance would not include shops located in a newly-created Downtown exclusion zone bound by Lake Michigan to the east, Division to the north, the Chicago River and the west side of State St north of the river to the west, and Van Buren to the south. Escareno said she was unsure how many of the city’s 42 qualifying shops are in the exclusion zone.

State law restricts on-site weed consumption to retail tobacco shops and at cannabis dispensaries. Excareno said the Mayor’s office will introduce an ordinance to allow on-site consumption at dispensaries at a later date.

“In the future, we will look toward developing effective regulation for on-site consumption in dispensaries, the only other location permitted by state law. We will wait for social equity applicants to receive their dispensary license,” she said.

On Monday, state officials said more than 600 applications they received for the 72 statewide dispensary licenses to be awarded by May 1 qualify as social-equity applicants.

Retail tobacco stores seeking the on-site consumption license will face a mountain of restrictions before they can allow customers to get high on their premises, including a $4,400 licensing fee that would need to be renewed every two years.

Under proposed new rules, a business could only receive a license if they own or lease a freestanding building located at least five feet from other buildings and could provide proper ventilation. Hours for indoor consumption would be restricted to 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Qualifying shops could remain open until 3 a.m. Sunday. Consumption would be restricted from 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Sunday. Outdoor areas, which must be enclosed, could stay open from 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 7 a.m.-midnight on Friday and Saturday.

The shops would operate as BYOP — or bring your own pot — shops. The businesses would not be permitted to sell cannabis, knowingly allow anyone to sell cannabis in the shop, or allow customers to store their own weed at the shop in a locker.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he doesn’t see how any business will be able to make money with those restrictions.

“I’m just concerned with the regulatory regime that’s laid out here, that even the most creative or most impressive entrepreneurs on earth…” will struggle to see a profit, he said.

Escareno said that the city is trying to do their best with what the state law allows.

“To your point alderman, we’re working around the parameters of what the state has given us, so you take the lemons and make lemonade,” she said.

Smoking weed in restaurants, open air lounges, coffee shops other businesses is banned under state law.

Outside Dispensary 33 in Andersonville Wednesday morning, a man who wished not to be named said he hopes Chicago eventually allows consumption lounges similar to those in Amsterdam, which he said he’s visited often.

The man said he plans to smoke a lot of weed, and it’d be nice to have places to get high in public.

“I’m retired, so my goal is to remain stoned for the entirety of the current administration,” he said, later clarifying he was referring to the White House.

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