Despite pressure from all sides, Lightfoot determined to keep recreational marijuana sales out of downtown Chicago

‘If you had a two-story liquor store on Michigan Avenue, I think people would rightfully be offended by that,’ the mayor said.

SHARE Despite pressure from all sides, Lightfoot determined to keep recreational marijuana sales out of downtown Chicago

A cashier rings up a marijuana sale at a cannabis dispensary in Las Vegas. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants to prevent retail sales in the downtown area of pot for recreational use.

Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she’s determined to keep the sale of recreational marijuana out of the downtown area, despite pressure from all sides to loosen up.

A former federal prosecutor and Police Board president, Lightfoot alternately portrayed her decision to wall off the downtown area as a matter of public safety and fairness.

“If you had a two-story liquor store on Michigan Avenue, I think people would rightfully be offended by that,” the mayor said.

“You know what’s going on here. There’s a lot of real estate speculation. People got leases in places where they thought they were gonna be able to open up supreme spots. ... But, I feel pretty strongly that we have to focus on really bringing equity to the neighborhoods.”

Lightfoot’s proposed “exclusion zone” would stretch 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.

Aldermen from across the city have argued that a city struggling to close an $838 million budget gap simply cannot afford to wall off the area where most Chicagoans live, work and play and tourists and conventioneers spend nearly all of their time and money.

The mayor argued otherwise.

“There’s a misnomer on the part of people who aren’t in that business that this is gonna be some huge economic windfall for the city. The truth is, our estimates are that we may get $10 million annually … [That’s a] pretty small amount …The city’s piece of this is only three percent,” the mayor said.

The mayor advised reporters to take a close look at a map of Chicago’s 11 medical marijuana dispensaries. It shows there’s “nothing on the Far South Side and very little on the West Side,” she said.

That’s important because the state law that legalized recreational marijuana gives medical dispensaries a “head start” and a “leg up,” the mayor said.  

“They get to really turn all of of those existing sites into recreational sites right away on January 1st. Then, they get a second site. And all of that happens before anybody else even gets to enter the market,” the mayor said.

“So we’re focused on equity. I know that’s gonna ruffle some feathers among the people who are already profiting greatly. But so be it. We have to do the right thing.”

Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to bring sorely-needed  development to impoverished South and West Side neighborhoods that have suffered from decades of dis-investment.

Recreational marijuana provides the new mayor with an early opportunity to share the wealth with those most victimized by the war on drugs.

“What we want to do is make sure we’re creating a framework so the opportunities for participation in this business are really spread evenly throughout the city and not just concentrated in the central business district,” she said.

“For those who are like, `The mayor is fighting a great opportunity for revenue,’ — the revenue is pretty modest. This has got to be about building entrepreneurship and economic opportunity for those who have been closed out of this business.”

Lightfoot also promised a robust process of community input before deciding where recreational marijuana can be smoked and consumed.

The ordinance inadvertently introduced by her floor leader setting the stage for Chicago to be saturated with on-site consumption will be withdrawn, the mayor said.

“I’ve heard from a number of aldermen who represent different demographics where seniors and others are involved. They don’t want these in their neighborhoods,” she said.

“That’s why we have to have a process that really brings the community into it and we’re thoughtful about the way we open up these opportunities.”

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