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City Council Approves Mayor Lori Lightfoot's Proposed Zoning Rules For Recreational Marijuana In Chicago

by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Despite concerns from the Black Caucus that African American businesses won't get a fair shake when recreational marijuana sales begin in Illinois next year, the Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved Mayor Lori Lightfoot's proposed rules for where those shops will be able to open.

The ordinance setting limits on where recreational marijuana businesses can operate in the city passed by a 40-10 vote.

However, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the Black Caucus, also introduced a measure to delay the start of recreational pot sales in Chicago until July 1, in an effort to bring more political pressure to addressing concerns about ensuring African Americans can get a share of the burgeoning pot business.

"We intend to work to have a hearing, and have those matters put on the table so we find some real solutions for our community," Ervin said. "This is a much broader issue than just in this building. This is something that's going to have impact across our community for years to come."

The Black Caucus had expressed concerns that 11 existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be given a leg up on starting recreational marijuana sales without getting a special permit from the city. That would allow them to begin recreational pot sales months before anyone else in Chicago, and Ervin noted there is "zero black ownership" among the existing medical marijuana operations in Chicago.

"These 11 businesses will be given an exclusive opportunity without anyone else coming in until late spring," he said before Wednesday's meeting. "The current plan gives an unfair advantage to those …there aren't any opportunities for black ownership."

Ervin also said there are too many loopholes in the so-called "social equity" provisions. The alderman said recreational pot shops whose employees are mostly minorities would be given social equity credit, but there is no requirement for minority ownership. The alderman said minority ownership is a must for real social equity.

Nonetheless, Ervin voted in favor of the mayor's zoning proposal, saying without some zoning restrictions in the city, recreational marijuana businesses could be located virtually anywhere, except within 500 feet of schools. The school zone restriction is the only limit the state law places on where pot shops can open, any other restrictions are up to local governments.

Ervin said the city needs to set rules to make sure the shops don't open where the mayor, aldermen, and local residents don't want them.

"All of those things get tossed out of the window if we do not pass any form of zoning," Ervin said. "I think to not have any regulation on this matter will put us in much greater jeopardy than we are in today."

The mayor said she shares black aldermen's concerns that the vast majority of existing recreational marijuana businesses are owned by white men, with only minimal participation by women and minorities, but she said the city had to get the zoning rules right before recreational marijuana sales begin statewide next year.

"We needed to take this first step so we have a regulatory framework," she said.

Lightfoot said she would work with the aldermen and local residents to lobby state lawmakers to come up with ways to improve the chances the African American community will benefit from marijuana sales.

"We need to go to Springfield and really let our elected officials, let people from the neighborhoods talk about their perspective on equity, and I think we'll have an opportunity to do that, but first thing we had to do was get the zoning right," she said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who was among those voting no on the zoning rules, said aldermen were missing out on an opportunity to use their political influence to correct mistakes in the state law now.

He noted that the city's 11 existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be able to get up to two recreational sales licenses apiece starting Jan. 1 -- one for their current location and one for a second shop -- without any special permit from the city, months before any other businesses could realistically get a license.

"How do we start a game already down 22-0? That is a travesty," Beale said. "How do we let somebody get a 12-month head start before anyone else can get in the game?"

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), however, said there's nothing the City Council can do to prevent the 11 existing medical marijuana dispensaries in Chicago from obtaining state licenses to operate in their existing locations.

"Whether we like it or not, whether we do anything or not, come January 1st those folks, by state law, get to start selling recreational cannabis. We cannot prevent that from happening," he said.

Reilly said, if aldermen were to delay setting up zoning rules for recreational pot sales, they would only hurt the "slew" of minority-owned businesses already lining up to get licenses for the soon-to-be booming pot business.

"Those are the people who would be negatively impacted by delaying the zoning ordinance," he said.

Ervin said the Black Caucus is willing to work with the mayor and the state legislature to make any necessary changes to state law regarding recreational pot licenses.

"In the end, we want to see people that look like us in this business profit from it," Ervin said.

Before Wednesday's vote, the mayor also had amended the recreational pot zoning rules to address concerns about her plan to limit sales in the downtown area. Several aldermen had expressed concerns that her original plan would have hurt the amount of revenue the city would see from marijuana taxes.

The original plan called for banning pot sales in the River North area north of the Chicago River in an area bounded from Lake Michigan on the east to LaSalle Street on the west and Oak Street on the north; and south of the Chicago River in the Loop area from Lake Michigan on the east to the Chicago River on the west, and south to Ida B. Wells Drive.

The revised boundaries north of the river would extend from Lake Michigan to State Street, instead of LaSalle, and the northern boundary would be moved north from Oak to Division. The southern boundary of the exclusion zone would be moved from Wells Drive to Van Buren Street.

Lightfoot's plan splits the rest of the city into seven zones, with a maximum number of stores selling recreational marijuana in each.

The compromise ordinance also would require anyone seeking to operate a marijuana business in areas of the city typically reserved for storefronts to obtain a city permit and a zoning change, which would require City Council approval and give aldermen more oversight of recreational pot shops.

In other business, the City Council also approved:

  • A $4.9 million settlement agreement with the family of 27-year-old Chequita Adams, who was killed when an off-duty police officer fleeing from police slammed into her car in June 2017. An unmarked squad car was chasing off-duty officer Taylor Clark, whose Jeep matched the description of a vehicle wanted in a carjacking. Clark reached speeds of up to 107 mph before the crash. The officer chasing him did not activate her lights or siren until moments before the crash.
  • A $295,000 settlement with WIvionia Haywood Jones and Erick Smith, after police officers forced their way into the couple's apartment without a warrant, while responding to a neighbor's complaint about marijuana smoke. Police found no evidence of marijuana in the couple's home, and city attorneys conceded the officers had no authority to enter the apartment.
  • A $200,000 settlement with Karonna Williams and her two sons, after raiding their home while serving a warrant for the apartment across the hall. Police were searching for the suspect in a kidnapping and sexual assault, and couldn't get into the suspect's apartment with a master key provided by the building manager, and said they believed Williams' apartment might be the right one, but city attorneys conceded they had no authority to break in.
  • A measure to provide a property tax break for the spouses of police officers, firefighters, and paramedics who die in the line of duty. Those spouses wouldn't have to pay the city's share of their property tax bill (typically 20% to 25% of the total) as long as they do not remarry, and stay in the home they shared with their late wife or husband.
  • A plan for Blue Cross Blue Shield to replace a shuttered Target store in Morgan Park with a new community health center and office building. The project would bring more than 500 jobs to the Marshfield Plaza shopping center, where the Target has stood vacant since February.
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