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Aldermen Want More Time For Residents To Force A Ban On Weed Dispensaries In Some Neighborhoods

Two Gold Coast aldermen say it's been difficult for neighbors to gather signatures to create restricted weed zones during the state's stay at home order.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) at City Council in February.
Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Two aldermen representing the Gold Coast want more time for residents to force a ban on weed dispensaries in their immediate neighborhood.

In order to create precinct-level “restricted cannabis zones,” neighbors must gather signatures from at least 25 percent of the precinct’s registered voters, which has proved difficult during the state’s stay at home order. Last week, Ald. Michele Smith (43th) and Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) introduced ordinances that would retroactively put a pause on the 90-day period to file petitions until state and local stay at home orders are lifted.

The move comes as residents of the posh neighborhood are up against a June 1 deadline to file completed petitions with the City Clerk’s office.

Smith also introduced a measure that would prevent the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals from awarding special-use permits to cannabis businesses until 2022 if the business is seeking to open in a precinct in which a “notice of intent” to begin the petition process was filed with the City Clerk’s Office prior to March 21 and extending through state and local stay at home orders.

Two such notices were filed March 3 to block weed companies from opening in the 29th and 34th precincts in Hopkins’ 2nd Ward. The 29th precinct is directly south of Smith’s ward.

“It is only fair that people have the opportunity to collect signatures when the stay at home order is lifted and that the period of time since the stay at home order doesn’t count,” Smith said.

Patricia Walsh filed to establish a weed-free zone between Division and Elm streets from Clark Street to Lake Shore Drive. The Sun-Times previously reported Walsh is the wife of Daniel Walsh, co-chairman of the influential construction firm The Walsh Group.

Just to the south, Donna Stender seeks to block companies from setting up shop in the 34th precinct, stretching from State Street eastward to Lake Shore Drive and bounded by Elm Street to the north and Cedar Street to the south.

Both petitions need to be submitted by June 1. However, Smith and Hopkins’ ordinances would be retroactive to March 21, allowing more than two additional months to gather signatures if passed.

Walsh’s petition would have blocked Cresco Labs proposed dispensary at 29 W. Division St., but the company has since withdrawn it’s application for the location in favor of a spot at 67 W. Chicago Ave..

Cresco Labs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

PharmaCann’s desired spot at 12-14 W. Maple St. lies just outside both precincts and would be unaffected.

After the companies held dueling community meetings March 5, Smith and Hopkins said they would file formal objections with the city’s zoning board, arguing the dispensaries don’t “fit” into the neighborhood and could attract crime to the area.

RELATED: Gold Coast Aldermen Want To Block 2 Weed Dispensaries From Opening In The Neighborhood

 PharmaCann co-founder Jeremy Unruh countered the neighbors’ push, saying “the sky did not fall when these dispensaries opened their doors to medical patients five years ago.”

Both applications were scheduled to be heard by the zoning board at a March 20 meeting that was canceled due to the pandemic. The board is now holding virtual meetings, but Chairman Farzin Parang has said the board will not hear cannabis applications until community input can be incorporated into the meetings.

Cresco Labs will hold a virtual community meeting on June 5 to present their plans for the Chicago Avenue location. 

Neither company is on the agenda for the June 5 meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The state law that legalized cannabis allows registered voters in any municipality with more than 500,000 residents to petition their local alderman to establish weed-free zones at the precinct level if a resident can collect the signatures of at least 25 percent of registered voters in the precinct. 

After filing a “notice of intent” with the Clerk’s Office, the resident has a 90-day window to gather the signatures. If the petition is filed within the 90 days, a 30-day “public comment” period begins while the Clerk’s Office verifies the signatures. Ultimately, it is up to the local alderman to introduce an ordinance creating the weed-free zone, which remains in effect for four years.

The only completed petition to be filed with the Clerk’s Office is for a ban on cannabis activity in the 13th precinct of Ald. Marty Quinn’s 13th Ward on the Southwest Side.

Quinn introduced an ordinance May 20 that would ban “home cultivation and new or additional cultivation centers, craft growers, and processing, infuser, dispensing and transporting organizations.”

The petition shows signatures were added through April 11, weeks after the stay at home order went into effect. 

Quinn could not be immediately reached for comment.

Smith said she doesn’t “begrudge” anyone from collecting signatures, but petitioners in the Gold Coast reached out to her office to say the process was “very, very difficult” in the dense neighborhood.

“In the Gold Coast, there’s a handful of homes that you could ring a bell, everything else is a high–rise condominium,” she said. “People have been told to stay at home … so it puts extraordinary measures to try to get those signatures.”

Quinn and Hopkins had their ordinances referred to the Committee on License and Consumer Protection.

Smith’s two ordinances will be heard by the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards.

All would need committee approval and passage by the full City Council.

Smith said that it’s likely only one of the three proposals she and Hopkins introduced will advance, but she thinks “we have a good chance at passage.”

Notices of intent were given for three precincts encompassing Chinatown on Jan. 3 but no completed petitions were filed. An active notice of intent is outstanding for a precinct in the 6th Ward.

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