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Aldermen Stall Plan To Ease Zoning Rules For Marijuana Businesses, Open Up Sales In Most Of Downtown

by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Two of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's most outspoken critics on Tuesday temporarily blocked approval of an ordinance that would ease the rules on marijuana dispensaries in Chicago, allowing them to open in most of downtown, and relaxing zoning requirements throughout the city.

The City Council had been set to give the plan final approval before Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) used a parliamentary maneuver to delay the vote until the next City Council meeting. Lightfoot then scheduled the next meeting for Monday, the same day she plans to present her 2022 budget plan to the City Council.

The changes in the ordinance are aimed at making it easier for firms owned by minorities to get in on the legal marijuana business in Illinois, but Beale and Lopez have said the state rules aimed at protecting Black and Latino businesses deemed as "social equity" applicants for marijuana licenses are not good enough, and the city should keep its current zoning rules for pot shops in place until the Illinois General Assembly makes sure the state's rules for the program truly benefit minority businesses.

Beale has argued the current state rules essentially force minority firms who qualify as "social equity" applicants who are given a leg up on licenses to quickly sell their operations to better-financed White businesses.

"We're being hoodwinked once again, and here we are saying we have to hurry up and vote for this so social equity people can get a piece of the pie," Beale said at a Zoning Committee meeting last week. "We are not getting a piece of this pie, because the same people who wrote this (state) law are the same people who own all the dispensaries."

The mayor's proposal seeks to allow pot shops to open in most of downtown.

The city's current rules prohibit marijuana dispensaries from opening 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 proposed change would significantly reduce that "exclusion zone," by prohibiting pot sales between State Street and Michigan Avenue from Division to Van Buren streets, along Michigan Avenue from Van Buren Street to 16th Street, and between Ohio and Illinois streets from Michigan Avenue to Navy Pier.

The new rules also would eliminate the seven cannabis zones the city is currently divided into, and lift the cap of seven dispensaries in each zone.

The ordinance also would ease zoning requirements for marijuana dispensaries and marijuana cultivation operations across the city. The mayor wants to make it easier for dispensaries to open in some business and commercial districts without special permission from city officials, and to allow businesses that grow, process, or infuse marijuana products to open in some manufacturing districts, as long as they're at least 650 feet away from homes.

Lightfoot said she's confident the ordinance will pass when it comes up for a vote on Monday.

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