Marijuana businesses set to expand in downtown Chicago after city eases limits

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Marijuana retailers will have a larger presence in Chicago after the City Council passed a contested proposal to ease zoning requirements for cannabis businesses. The Chicago City Council voted 33-13 to lift the cap of seven cannabis zones in the city with a limit on the number of dispensaries allowed in each zone. The approved proposal will also narrow the downtown “exclusion zone” where dispensaries can’t open.

“If we make doing business in the city of Chicago so onerous by laws, taxes and other things, they are going to move across the border to the suburbs,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot, urging aldermen to approve the proposal. “Our role is zoning. Let’s open up opportunities in some of the most lucrative spots.”

Cannabis dispensaries will now be allowed to open without special permission from city officials. Dispensaries, at least 650 feet away from any residence, will be allowed in areas of Chicago where manufacturing operations are permitted. This means dispensaries no longer have to participate in a zoning lottery to be approved to open a location in the city.

Marijuana businesses will be able to expand into areas where they were previously banned in the “exclusion zone” of Division Street in the north and Van Buren Street in the south, as well as Michigan Avenue between Ohio and Illinois streets east to Navy Pier. Dispensaries will still be restricted from opening on south Michigan Avenue and a strip between Michigan Avenue and State Street.

The proposal, introduced in July by mayor Lightfoot, was deferred by Alderman Anthony Beale of the 9th district and Ray Lopez of the 15th last week at the City Council meeting saying that the new rules will not ensure that the Black and Latino population will benefit from the legalization of marijuana.

“Half of the people who are going to benefit from this rush job are fronts for individuals who are not true social equity individuals,” Lopez said before Monday’s vote.

Mayor Lightfoot argued at Monday’s meeting that people go through a rigorous licensing process to be finally certified to open up businesses, so the city must “open up opportunities in some of the most lucrative spots.”

Only 18 dispensaries are located in Chicago, out of the 110 operations that opened in Illinois after the state legalized recreational cannabis use in January 2020. None are owned by Blacks or Hispanics. It’s estimated the city lost more than $13 million in revenue, while the state’s licensed stores reported a record $115 million in recreational cannabis purchases in April, with out-of-state buyers accounting for sales of $35 million.

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