Chicago medical marijuana dispensaries are likely coming to busy shopping areas, despite the city’s initial attempt to hide them away at the edges of the city.

That means a medical marijuana dispensary could potentially open next door to a tony restaurant on Randolph Street or in River North near touristy fast food joints, according to new zoning regulations approved Tuesday by a the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards. 

Essentially most business and commercial strips are fair game.

“You could have [a dispensary] right next door as long as the zoning is applicable,” Zoning Administrator Patti Scudiero said.

But dispensaries, which could be located throughout the city, won’t be allowed in any building that is used as a residence.

And entrepreneurs will have to seek special-use permits, which would trigger a public hearing before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals where area residents could object, identify the owners and scrutinize their backgrounds.

“We tried to put together the best ordinance that would allow for the service of the medical cannabis, but it’s also going to be looking out for the interest of our community, residents and schools,” said Ald. Danny Solis (25th), the chairman of the committee.

The state requires dispensaries to be 1,000 feet away from schools and other places kids frequent.

“In a perfect world the city of Chicago would treat dispensaries no differently than pharmacies. However, we applaud the committee’s recommendations,” said Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project. “We believe that it will help that seriously ill patients are not treated as second class citizens and have reasonable access to regulated dispensaries in the city.”

 

 

The ordinance approved by the committee Tuesday is a big change from what Ald. Ed Burke (14th) had originally proposed — to confine dispensaries and marijuana growers to manufacturing districts near the airports and the Lake Calumet area because it seemed, initially, that there were few areas in the city that met the location requirements dictated by the state.

Burke told the committee that it was never the city’s intent to “restrict” access to medical marijuana.

“Under the state law, there was virtually no place in the city of Chicago where dispensaries and/or cultivation centers could be located” he said.

The city’s action on Tuesday came after the state clarified its rules about where dispensaries could be located.

State officials will allow 13 dispensaries to open in Chicago. In the city, the state used township boundaries to be sure the dispensaries are spread throughout. 

For instance North Township, which is roughly bounded by Fullerton to the north and follows the edge of the Chicago River to the west and south, has been allocated one dispensary.

A cultivation center growing marijuana in Chicago will be treated as an “urban farm,” zoned to a manufacturing district and also require a special-use permit, officials said. 

The state will allow one growing operation in each State Police district. District Chicago, which includes all of Cook County, is actually made up of two districts, so it will have two cultivation centers, according to state documents.

Earlier this month, state lawmakers gave the OK to implement the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

Applications for those seeking to use medical marijuana, grow it or sell it will likely be available in August, state officials have said. Then in September, the state will start accepting the applications and reviewing them.

The city was “under the gun” and wanted to have its zoning ordinance in place before applications started rolling into the state,  Solis  said.

The full City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance Wednesday.

Patients with specific debilitating medical conditions — such as muscular dystrophy, cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS — who are approved by the state are expected to be able to start using medical marijuana early next year.

Contributing: Fran Spielman