Lightfoot’s plan to ban pot sales in downtown Chicago under fire at city’s 1st public meeting on proposed zoning rules

“There are so many people with disabilities who could benefit from recreational marijuana, and we can’t get to the local stores,” said Bryen Yunashko, who is blind and deaf.

SHARE Lightfoot’s plan to ban pot sales in downtown Chicago under fire at city’s 1st public meeting on proposed zoning rules
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About 150 community members flocked to Malcolm X College Tuesday for a meeting on Mayor Lightfoot’s zoning proposal for marijuana dispensaries.

Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori 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.

Bryen Yunashko, who is blind and deaf, gave the most spirited rebuke of the mayor’s dispensary zoning proposal. While Yunashko doesn’t use marijuana, he claimed that excluding much of the business district fails to consider the needs of those with disabilities.

“Downtown is really vital for shopping centers for people with disabilities because it gets us out of our neighborhoods — and it’s hard to navigate our neighborhoods. So getting downtown is easier,” Yunashko said after the hearing through a pair of interpreters.

“There are so many people with disabilities who could benefit from recreational marijuana, and we can’t get to the local stores.”

Paul Stewart, the mayoral policy adviser, explained that sales would be allowed in certain areas in the district. But others in the crowd of about 150 also raised concerns about banning sales in the bustling business center.

Michael Malcolm, a real estate broker who hopes to open a dispensary in Bronzeville, worries the plan may push well-capitalized pot firms into neighborhoods where small business owners who can’t afford property downtown are looking to set up shop.

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Michael Malcolm hopes to cash in on recreational marijuana legalization by opening a South Side pot shop.

Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

“Those companies have the ability to open up their places in those areas,” said Malcolm.

Facing pressure over the proposal last month, Lightfoot bemoaned existing cannabis firms getting a “head start” when recreational sales kick off next year and said she wants to “focus on bringing equity to neighborhoods.” Lightfoot’s administration has said the business district’s status as a hub for commerce and tourism justifies the ban.

Malcolm rebuffed that reasoning, noting that “iPhones have people lining up all along Michigan Avenue.”

“People sleep outside for their products,” he said.“So for them to act ... like people are going to act crazy [for cannabis], it stigmatizes the plant.”

Additional public meetings will are set for Wednesday at Kennedy-King College and Thursday at Truman College. Both events will be held at 6 p.m.

To submit a comment or question to city officials, send a message to communityengagement@cityofchicago.org.

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