Authored by Akshita Singh, Douglas Sargent 

Generally speaking, and for better or worse, Illinois moves as Chicago moves. For that reason, many have been anxiously awaiting any indication from officials as to how recreational marijuana sales will proceed in the city. That wait is now over as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot staked out her position in an op-ed and a recently released proposed ordinance.

Under the proposed ordinance, Chicago would be divided into seven zones for recreational marijuana dispensaries. The zones will each be initially permitted to have seven dispensaries, and that number will later expand to a maximum of 14. Critically, no dispensaries will be permitted in a downtown “exclusion zone” bounded by Oak Street to the north, Lake Michigan to the east, Ida B. Wells Drive (formerly, Congress Parkway) to the south, and the Chicago River (south of the main branch) and LaSalle Street (north of the main branch) to the west. To the chagrin of many cannabis companies and consumers, this means there will be no recreational marijuana dispensaries in the Magnificent Mile or the Loop, as well as much of River North.

The ordinance also establishes that dispensaries cannot be within 1,500 feet of another dispensary, within 500 feet of a school, or within a residential (R) zoning district. According to the proposal, a permit for a recreational dispensary would have to be approved by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

The proposed ordinance is already drawing its share of critics. Downtown Aldermen Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) advised the city to tap into the tourist market, noting “[i]n order for this to be a successful revenue play for the city, we have to have some dispensaries located downtown.” Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward) also suggested “it might not make sense” to exclude dispensaries from downtown. In a preemptive counter to those critics, Mayor Lightfoot stated that “we will be ensuring that legalization not only creates new revenues for our city, but also unique opportunities for entrepreneurs from communities victimized by [the] War on Drugs to be at the forefront of developing equity and wealth from this emerging industry.”

Lightfoot’s proposed rules will need to clear the City Council, which holds its next meeting in October. Stay tuned to the blog for continued developments on Illinois’s recreational marijuana rollout.


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