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City Council Postpones Vote On Lightfoot’s Overhaul Of Weed Rules

City Council will now vote on Lightfoot's push to allow weed shops in much of Downtown at the next City Council meeting, which is set for Monday.

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CHICAGO — Pot shops could soon be allowed in much of Downtown, but a vote on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s overhaul of the city’s cannabis zoning rules was delayed Tuesday at City Council until next week.

Lightfoot introduced the ordinance in July in an effort to reduce the cost and time to open a pot shop and other cannabis businesses in the city to lure the next round of dispensary license owners to Chicago and avoid losing them to the suburbs.

The current rules saw the city lose out on businesses and tax revenue during the first round of dispensary licensing, said Will Shih, a cannabis advisor to Lightfoot. More than 100 companies hold a provisional dispensary license to open in Chicago, but their license allows them to set up shop in the suburbs instead.

For the first time, the new round of license holders will include companies majority-owned by Black and Brown entrepreneurs. Those budding companies may have less access to capital than the many large multi-state operators that currently operate in the city, Shih said.

But a vote on the ordinance was blocked on Tuesday by two frequent Lightfoot critics, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who used a procedural maneuver to delay a vote until the next meeting of the City Council.

During a Zoning Committee meeting last week, Lopez and Beale said the city should wait to loosen up its cannabis rules until state legislators take another stab at ensuring more minority-owned companies can enter the industry.

City Council will now take up the proposal on Monday, when Lightfoot will also present her 2022 budget to aldermen in a planned speech. 

The pot ordinance to be presented for a vote is a tweaked version of Lightfoot’s original proposal. The amended version aims to significantly reduce the number of buildings eligible to be built out as a pot shop without a zoning change. The original ordinance was slimmed down at the request of aldermen, who sought to maintain control over the process to open dispensaries along business corridors in their wards. 

The downtown exclusion zone is also set to be reduced to a sliver of its current size. Under new rules, only Michigan Avenue from Division Street to 16th Street and Grand Avenue between State Street and Navy Pier would be excluded.  

The ordinance changes the city’s zoning rules to allow dispensaries and other weed companies into buildings zoned as C1, typically found in neighborhood business districts. Because pot shops would be allowed in the Loop for the first time, dispensaries will also be permitted in large buildings zoned as DS-downtown district.

Lightfoot’s original ordinance also allowed cannabis companies into buildings zoned as B3, which would have expanded the total number of buildings eligible to host pot shops through the new rules to a staggering 21,000. 

Craft weed grow facilities will be allowed in two manufacturing districts, M2 and M3, that they are currently prohibited from without a zoning change. 

The new rules also get rid of the city’s current seven cannabis districts that governed where, and how many, pot shops could open across the city, giving license holders access to the entire city. 

Cannabis companies will still need to obtain a special-use permit from the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals before obtaining a final state license.

After the measure was advanced out of the Zoning Committee last week in a 13-4 vote, the Cannabis Equity Coalition said in a statement it would continue to push for B3-zoned buildings to be eligible for dispensaries “as a means to reduce barriers for social equity applicants,” but the group support the ordinance. 

“Expanding zoning to include B3 buildings will eliminate barriers such as re-zoning, which will cost applicants thousands of dollars and months of time,” the statement said. 

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