City Council to Relax Marijuana Zoning Restrictions and Reduce Downtown Exclusion Zone

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s downtown “exclusion zone” would shrink to a narrow strip, and zoning requirements for cannabis businesses across Chicago would be relaxed, as part of a mayor’s plan submitted for approval Tuesday to help minorities who have been left out of the so-called “green rush”.

City council is set to streamline the zoning process to attract an avalanche of applicants for “social equity” – a designation created by the state in an attempt to diversify the white lily industry.

Senior Deputy Mayor Will Shih blamed onerous zoning restrictions for limiting the number of Chicago dispensaries to 18 out of 110 statewide and the number of marijuana stores in the city to seven, though five more times could have opened here.

“Cannabis dispensaries and companies have chosen to go to the suburbs rather than stay in town,” robbing Chicago taxpayers of $ 13.5 million in potential marijuana-related revenue, Shih told Aldermen the week last.

In addition to opening up many more properties to cannabis operators, the mayor’s plan would eliminate the city‘s seven cannabis zones and their underlying license caps and remove an associated zoning lottery.

This would notably open up much of the city center to the sale of weeds, hacking into an “exclusion zone” for which Lightfoot had previously fought and defended.

“We’re not turning Michigan Avenue into a pot heaven,” Lightfoot said in January, downtown Ald’s day. Brendan Reilly (42nd) introduced an order that would have completely nullified the zone.

The downtown exclusion zone currently stretches from Division Street to the north, Van Buren to the south, and Lake Michigan to the east. The western boundary is State Street in River North and the south branch of the Chicago River in the Loop.

The new proposal would reduce Division sales at Van Buren between the state and Michigan, with the pot-free zone extending to 16th Street in Michigan. Sales would also be banned from Ohio to Illinois streets between Michigan and Navy Pier.

Lightfoot introduced sweeping zoning changes in July, only to make a series of changes to appease aldermen determined to give minorities a slice of the lucrative pie.

The changes weren’t enough to satisfy Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), the mayor’s most vocal critic of the Council.

Arguing that “over 40%” of social equity contenders are “fronts” that are actually owned by whites, Beale urged colleagues to maintain Chicago’s onerous zoning restrictions until the designation created. by the state really benefits blacks and Hispanics.

“We should withdraw until they resolve this issue. You have social equity folks selling their licenses. These are facades. Until this process is verified, we are still going the wrong way when trying to achieve the goal of making people of color a part of the cannabis industry, ”Beale told The Sun- Times.

“Why should we keep giving non-colored people cannabis licenses while we try to fix the process?” Correct the process and then deploy it. If you continue to allow people to have [a] with two, three, four or five years in advance, you will never have a piece of the pie.

Reilly said his “preference” would have been to “completely eliminate the exclusion zone”. But he called the new, narrower exclusion zone a “fair compromise”, noting that Lightfoot “might have preferred to expand it.”

“The city grossly slashed the revenue generated from local cannabis taxes when we first had this debate. Now that we’ve seen the potential, it’s time to embrace this industry and make sure taxpayers reap the benefits, ”Reilly wrote in an email to The Sun-Times.

“Every dollar we glean from cannabis revenue is a dollar less on your property tax bill. We shouldn’t leave revenue on the table – we need to embrace the emerging cannabis tourism economy on the coast. west and own that space. What better way to do that than to open up larger areas of downtown to potential cannabis licenses held by social equity seekers? I see that as a real win-win.

The state’s efforts to issue new cannabis licenses, namely those for pot stores, continue to be mired in controversy and uncertainty.

Still, the city is rushing to make changes to welcome the designated winners of the 185 upcoming dispensary licenses. These licenses cannot yet be issued due to a judge’s order in a pending trial in Cook County.

This isn’t the first time that a mayor’s plan to regulate the marijuana industry has sparked political tension.

In December 2019, the Council’s Contract Oversight and Fairness Committee voted 10-9 to delay sales of recreational marijuana for six months to give African-American and Hispanic entrepreneurs excluded from the first round a piece of the pie.

The next day, Lightfoot killed the six-month delay with a 29-19 vote in a tense test of her board muscles that uncomfortably pitted her against members of the Black Caucus.

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