Under pressure, Lightfoot scales back plan to prohibit pot sales in downtown area

While the “exclusion zone” for recreational pot shops would stretch slightly farther north under the revised ordinance, dispensaries could now open much closer to the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Mayor Lori Lightfoot plans to introduce a modified ordinance from her proposal to prohibit recreational pot sales in most of the downtown area.

Sun-Times files

Facing pressure from residents and aldermen alike, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday announced a scaled-back version of her much-maligned plan to prohibit recreational pot sales in most of the downtown area.

Lightfoot’s office plans to introduce the modified ordinance ahead of Tuesday’s meeting of the Zoning Committee.

According to the mayor’s office, the new proposal “reflects the voices and input” of aldermen, advocates, business owners and residents who showed up at a series of community meetings last week — many of whom voiced objections to Lightfoot’s initial zoning plan.

Last month’s proposal would have prohibited the sale of recreational cannabis in much of the Central Business District. The so-called “exclusion zone” for pot shops would have stretched from Oak Street to Ida B. Wells Drive and from Lake Michigan to LaSalle Street in River North and to the Chicago River in the Loop.

The modified ordinance would prohibit those sales north of the river from Lake Michigan to State Street, instead of LaSalle Street. The revamped plan would extend the northern boundary of the “exclusion zone” to Division Street, rather than Oak Street.

While the “exclusion zone” would stretch slightly farther north, pot shops could now open much closer to the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue.

Screen_Shot_2019_10_14_at_7.25.10_PM.png

An updated map of the proposed “exclusion zone” for recreational marijuana stores.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office

Lightfoot’s plan to prohibit pot shops in much of the Central Business District was met with a chorus of criticism during the city’s first public meeting on recreational cannabis legalization Tuesday at Malcolm X College. The initial ordinance also faced considerable pushback from aldermen seeking to utilize the new revenue source to address the city’s $838 million budget gap.

Lightfoot has nevertheless downplayed marijuana’s potential economic impact, estimating that recreational sales will only create $10 million in annual revenues.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly has argued that those sales could bring in around $25 million — if recreational dispensaries can open in the Central Business District.Last month, Reilly proposed a compromise that would cap the number of downtown pot shops at “three or four.”

As Lightfoot’s plan came under fire, she offered up a variety of defenses for the ban.

Most notably, the mayor has said the goal of splitting the city into seven cannabis districts and prohibiting sales downtown was to “share the wealth” with those victimized by past drug policies. But Lightfoot has also invoked public safety concerns and said the ban was aimed at ensuring the Loop remains a “family friendly” destination.

“While zoning represents the first step towards ensuring safe, responsible and equitable cannabis legislation becomes law, we will continue to work in lockstep with our elected officials, community leaders and residents throughout this process as we build on this shared vision together,” Lightfoot’s office said Monday.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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