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Chicago Relaxes Zoning For Downtown Marijuana Sales

The Windy City may soon be the Weed City. The City Council has approved the mayor’s plan to allow weed sales downtown.

Inside Hook

The Windy City may soon be the Weed City. The Chicago City Council on Monday approved Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to allow marijuana sales downtown.

The plan shrinks the downtown “exclusion zone” to a sliver and relaxes zoning requirements for Cannabis businesses all over Chicago. It’s designed to help minorities who have been shut out of the legal Cannabis “green rush.” The plan is also designed to help people who have been imprisoned for using or selling marijuana

The win came six days after two of Mayor Lightfoot’s harshest critics on the City Council used a parliamentary maneuver to delay the vote.

Monday’s vote in favor of the plan was 33 to 13, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. The plan will streamline the zoning process to attract an avalanche of “social equity” applicants. That’s a designation created by the state to diversify a weed industry so far mostly dominated by wealthy white folks.

Critics Continue Their Opposition To The Plan

Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th Ward) and Ray Lopez (15th), Lightfoot’s two most vociferous Council critics, had used a parliamentary maneuver to postpone the vote until Monday.

And on Monday, Lopez and Beale remained opposed.

“Half the people who are going to benefit from this rush job are fronts for individuals who are not true social equity individuals,” Lopez claimed before Monday’s vote. “This is wrong. We can slow down. We can do this right.”

But legal Cannabis sales are “raining hundred dollar bills,” said Black Caucus Chair Alderman Jason Ervin (28th Ward). Ervin called for quick action to loosen the rules and help those hurt by the War On Drugs.

‘Pot Paradise’?

Chicago prohibited pot shops from opening anywhere in the central business district when legal sales began in 2020. That restriction was due to concerns it might make the city’s main shopping district less attractive to, er, affluent families and tourists.

The new rules narrow those restrictions to include just a narrow strip between Michigan Avenue and State Street, reports WTTW.

The political landscape has evidently shifted since January. Back then, Ald. Brendan Reilly, whose 42nd Ward includes most of downtown Chicago, introduced a proposal to allow marijuana sales on the Magnificent Mile. But Mayor Lightfoot rebuffed Reilly, declaring “We’re not turning Michigan Avenue into the pot paradise.”

“This is a responsible, good faith compromise,” Reilly said of the new plan.

Revitalizing Downtown

The new plan doesn’t divide Chicago into seven zones for cannabis sales, as it had been. Monday’s vote also lifted the cap of seven dispensaries in each zone. 

Of the 185 licenses awarded by the state to help those harmed by the War On Drugs, 119 could open in Chicago or its suburbs. Supporters say the new rules will help attract entrepreneurs to Chicago.

The current rules allow a total of 34 dispensaries in Chicago, but the restrictions have meant that only 18 have opened their doors. Black or Latino entrepreneurs don’t own any of those.

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