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pot hearing

The Chicago City Council Black Caucus meets privately Tuesday while the zoning committee carries on its business in the City Council chambers.

Claudia Morell

Black Aldermen Reject Chicago Mayor’s Cannabis Zones

Mayor Lightfoot’s plan for special zones where recreational weed shops can locate hit a roadblock: the City Council’s Black Caucus.

The Chicago City Council’s zoning committee meets an hour before the full council Wednesday to consider what may be dueling proposals that outline where recreational marijuana zones can locate.

One proposal comes from the mayor’s office, and it has already been amended three times. The other is from the city council’s Black Caucus, whose members announced late Tuesday that they’ve decided to write their own plan because the mayor’s doesn’t go far enough to ensure minority participation in the burgeoning cannabis industry.

“When day one, there is no African Americans opening a dispensary, that’s not equity,” said Ald. David Moore of the 17th Ward, which includes part of the Englewood neighborhood. He said he and other members of the Black Caucus will not shy away from demanding the governor and state legislature amend the law that allows for recreational sales when they reconvene for the veto session at the end of the month.

Moore and several other members of the city council’s Black Caucus were not happy with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s recreational marijuana zones. And they made it known, holding private meetings Tuesday in conference rooms and the back annex with Department of Planning and Development staff and Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney, 44th Ward.

Though the Zoning Committee gathered in the City Council chambers as early as 10 in the morning, the ordinance for the marijuana zones wasn’t considered until 7:30 in the evening.

When the meeting finally reconvened after a more than two-hour recess — which was first announced as a 10 minute break — Patrick Murphy with the Department of Planning and Development detailed what he described as three changes all parties had agreed on.

The changes would require advanced knowledge of the city’s zoning code to comprehend. Essentially, the third substitute ordinance of the day would make it harder to open a dispensary in neighborhood commercial strips and high density manufacturing districts.

Mayor Lightfoot’s original proposal permit any building within a manufacturing designated area, or M-district, to allow for growing and cultivating marijuana. That means, if you owned a warehouse and received the proper permits from the state, you wouldn’t have to go before any city bureaucrats. The new ordinance would require those building owners go before the Zoning Board of Appeals, the process that’s required for dispensaries interested in locating on commercial strips.

Without explanation, Murphy also announced the southern boundary of the mayor’s proposal outline of off-limit areas for recreational marijuana dispensaries downtown would move one block north to Van Buren Street.

The latest tweaks to the marijuana zone ordinance would give aldermen more zoning control over the process.

Under the original draft, aldermen had no control over the locations, other than through a petition process that can be started by anyone, including a private citizen. It’s the same process the city council allows for Airbnb bans and only one ward has taken advantage of it: Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s 13th Ward, represented by Ald. Marty Quinn.

After Murphy detailed the changes, Chairman Tunney announced the meeting would recess to Wednesday morning to give aldermen an opportunity to digest the proposal.

An hour later, Black Caucus members sent out a notice that they would introduce their own plan that would delay sales of recreational marijuana to July 1, 2020. “With this current plan, there will undoubtedly be economic loss and opportunities for African Americans. There is currently zero African American participation among the 11 existing dispensaries,” Ald. Jason Ervin, chairman of the caucus, said.

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