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Cigar shops, hookah lounges and other smoke shops could allow pot use under city proposal

Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced an ordinance laying out rules for consuming pot in public Wednesday.

Cigar shops could apply to allow pot consumption under rules proposed in a new ordinance in Chicago.
Cigar shops could apply to allow pot consumption under rules proposed in a new ordinance in Chicago.
Sun-Times file photo

Shortly after fending off a push by black aldermen to delay sales of recreational marijuana, Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced an ordinance Wednesday that lays out the rules for pot consumption spaces in Chicago.

While the state law allows municipalities to license both dispensaries and smoke shops to permit the consumption of marijuana, Lightfoot’s proposal doesn’t include rules for the existing pot shops. Consumption rules for those sites will be determined later.

Under the plan, retail tobacco stores that derive 80% of their revenue from sales of tobacco-related products could apply to allow customers to use cannabis on-site.

“With this legislation, more entrepreneurs will be eligible to participate in the cannabis economy, including those who have borne the brunt of the War on Drugs, and Chicago’s residents will have the opportunity to consume cannabis in a safe location,” Lightfoot said in a statement.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Economic and Capital Development and Lightfoot’s floor leader, introduced a much broader plan in September that would have allowed pot use at a range of businesses, including in bars and restaurants and at doctors’ offices and yoga studios. Villegas swiftly pulled back, claiming the ordinance was “not fully baked.”

The mayor’s latest proposal comes in the wake of legislation passed by the General Assembly in November that curtailed provisions in the state’s legalization law amid criticism from health advocates.

Given the recent rule change, Lightfoot’s policy advisor Paul Stewart said the administration opted to limit public consumption to retail tobacco stores — like cigar shops and hookah lounges — because there’s already policies in place to regulate smoking at those businesses.

That means pot users looking to light up in public could also be subjected to tobacco or cigar smoke — or vice-versa. The ordinance gives few other details of whether smoke shops could open for pot smokers who don’t want to be surrounded by tobacco smoke or how a business that doesn’t sell tobacco could make money since weed sales will be strictly limited to licensed dispensaries.

Under the mayor’s proposal, smokes shops will be required to pay a $4,400 application fee to apply for the two-year license.

In order to allow the smoking or vaping of cannabis products, businesses are required to be the sole occupant of a freestanding building and can’t allow smoke to escape into areas where smoking is prohibited. Those rules extend to patios and other enclosed outdoor areas that aren’t visible to the public.

Smoke shops that don’t meet those standards could allow customers to consume cannabis products that don’t require smoking, like edibles.

The proposal lays out stringent rules that prohibit the sale or use of alcohol and the sale, storage or gifting of pot products by employees. Nude strip shows would also be banned,

Violations would cost a business owner between $1,000 and $5,000 in fines, and three such violations in a two-year span could lead to the revocation of their license.

None of the consumption spaces would be able to operate in the so-called exclusion zone for cannabis businesses that covers a large swath of the downtown area. In addition, consumption spaces can’t be within 500 feet of schools or one another.

Community members, aldermen and Chicago police will have 35 days to raise concerns about pending applications for licenses, which would require approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.