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Pot Shops Now Allowed In Most Of Downtown After City Council Changes Rules

The old rules saw the city lose out on businesses and tax revenue during the first round of dispensary licensing, Lightfoot's cannabis advisor said.

weed pot dispensary
Cannabis dispensaries would be allowed to open across most of Downtown under an ordinance set for consideration by the City Council during its Tuesday meeting.

CHICAGO — Pot shops will be allowed in much of Downtown after the City Council on Monday voted for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s overhaul of the city’s cannabis zoning rules.

The City Council voted 33-13 in favor of the mayor’s ordinance, which aims 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 old rules made the city lose out on businesses and tax revenue during the first round of dispensary licensing, said Will Shih, a cannabis advisor to Lightfoot. Those who initially planned to open dispensaries in the city instead set up shop in the suburbs, Shih said.

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.

The approved pot ordinance 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 will also 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.

The passage of the ordinance on Monday comes after two frequent Lightfoot critics, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), blocked the vote last week. The two used a procedural maneuver to delay a vote until the next meeting of the City Council.

Lopez and Beale were among a group of alderpeople who blasted the ordinance before the vote came down on Monday. They argue 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.

Lopez called the ordinance a “rush job.”

“This will not help those individuals who we are truly trying to make whole because of the laws of the past,” Lopez said. “Half of the people who are going to benefit from this rush job are fronts for individuals who are not true social equity individuals. They are manipulating and gaming this system and preying on our sympathies to get this done now and knowing they are going to profit.”

Ald. Sophia King (4th) said the rhetoric around this ordinance — “if we don’t do this now, our communities won’t be able to see the benefits” — is similar to that of the first pieces of legislation around cannabis zoning laws, which failed to include Black and Brown entrepreneurs. 

King said the City Council should “hold off and get this right.” 

The following alderpeople voted against the ordinance: Ald. Sophia King (4th), Ald. Anthony Beale  (9th), Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), Ald. Marty Quinn (13th), Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), Ald. Rosanna Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd), Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), Ald Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th).

Yet Proponents of the ordinance, including Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), Ald. David Moore (17th) and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), said the legislation is a necessary step toward opening up the overwhelmingly white weed industry to social equity applicants and can be shaped over time.

“Is this a perfect ordinance? No. Are we in the process of drafting the 10 commandments and chiseling this into stone? No. We can always go back and revise … but there is a group of people who cannot wait any longer,” Reilly said.

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