With cannabis poised to become legal in Illinois on January 1, 2020, Chicago lawmakers are ironing out rules that will govern the location of the city’s first recreational marijuana dispensaries.
On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot formally introduced an ordinance to the Chicago City Council creating seven “cannabis zones” in neighborhoods across the city’s North, South, and West sides. By spreading the businesses evenly among the different zone, the mayor hopes, will bring new economic opportunities to underserved neighborhoods.
“Working with community members, businesses, elected officials, and other partners at the local and state level, we will be ensuring that legalization not only creates new revenues for our city, but also unique opportunities for entrepreneurs from communities victimized by [the] War on Drugs to be at the forefront of developing equity and wealth from this emerging industry,” said Lightfoot in a statement on last Tuesday.
Lightfoot’s cannabis ordinance specifically prohibits dispensaries in large swaths of Chicago’s Central Business District. This “exclusion zone” is bounded by Oak Street to the north, Lake Michigan to the east, and Ida B. Wells Drive to the south. The western border is LaSalle Street in River North and the Chicago River in the Loop.
The move quashes earlier speculation that Chicago’s first dispensaries would go into more tourist-friendly areas and possibly revive vacant Mag Mile retailers such as the former Apple store at 679 N. Michigan Avenue.
Alderman Brendan Reilly, whose 42nd Wards covers portions of the Loop, River North, Streeterville, and Gold Coast, told the Chicago Tribune that he would like to see the plan modified to include a handful of locations within the exclusionary zone.
“In order for this to be a successful revenue play for the city, we have to have some dispensaries located downtown,” Reilly told the newspaper. “Having to go to Fulton Market to buy your marijuana is not making an equity play in a struggling neighborhood. It’s simply making you travel further outside the central corridor to access it.”
Lightfoot’s legislation initially allows for up to seven dispensaries in each area and enables the number to grow to 14 in the spring. Under the plan, Chicago’s eight licensed medical dispensaries will also be able to sell recreational marijuana.
The ordinance also requires all new cannabis-related applications to go through City Hall’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Dispensaries are prohibited from operating within 500 feet of a school, 1,500 feet of other dispensaries, or in residential (R classification) zoning districts.
Per state law, Chicagoans must be 21 years of age or older to purchase and use recreational marijuana. The rules also prohibit cannabis consumption in public places.