Lightfoot’s on-site consumption ordinance runs into buzz-kill of opposition from aldermen

One month after beating back an effort to delay recreational marijuana sales for six months to give African-American and Hispanic entrepreneurs a chance to get a piece of the action, mayor faces more opposition to her on-site consumption ordinance.

SHARE Lightfoot’s on-site consumption ordinance runs into buzz-kill of opposition from aldermen

Cigar-smoking Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), former chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he’s concerned the mayor’s on-site consumption plan will open the door to a whole new wave of drug arrests victimizing blacks and Hispanics.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to create licensed places for on-site consumption of recreational marijuana in Chicago ran into a buzz-kill of opposition Monday by black and Hispanic aldermen concerned it will pave the way for a new wave of drug arrests.

“Our concern, as aldermen who represent the South and West Sides, is that it’s not gonna work and there’s gonna be illegal dens of people smoking the stuff,” Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) told the Chicago Sun-Times after a closed-door briefing on the mayor’s ordinance.

“There’s no stand-alone or free-standing smoke shops within the communities we’re talking about. And if you were able to find a cigar bar or lounge, the two customers just don’t mix.”

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), former chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, agreed with his fellow cigar-smoker that Lightfoot’s plan to limit consumption-on-premises licenses to retail tobacco stores that derive 80% of their revenue from the sale of tobacco-related products is ill-conceived because “most cigar smokers don’t want to be in the same space as weed smokers” and vice-versa.

Although the City Council’s License Committee is scheduled to vote on the mayor’s consumption ordinance Wednesday, Sawyer wants the committee to hold off until state law is changed to allow Chicago to license cannabis-only cafes where small serving sizes, say one or two grams, could be sold and consumed on premises.

He called it, the “Amsterdam model.”

“If we don’t … have consumption spaces for cannabis users only, people are gonna use Airbnb’s. They’ll have private clubs or vans that drive around or park and you smoke,” Sawyer said.

“My biggest fear is rearresting those who just got expunged, re-criminalizing activity that we are trying to get away from. And it’s gonna be primarily black people that get arrested and charged.”

Paul Stewart, the mayor’s chief adviser on cannabis issues, said the city’s hands are tied by restrictions approved during the Illinois General Assembly’s fall veto session under pressure from public health advocates.

“The state only allows cannabis consumption in either retail tobacco locations or state-licensed cannabis dispensaries. We don’t have the ability to create another category outside of the two that the state has allowed for,” Stewart said.

“So what we decided to do is move forward with specialty tobacco shops, which are like cigar bars and hookah lounges.”

As for fears that the restrictions would pave the way for a new round of drug arrests, Stewart said, “I don’t share that concern. This is more of an enhancement to a business as opposed to a specific business model.”

Under Lightfoot’s plan, smoke shops would be required to purchase a two-year, $4,400 license, be the sole occupant of a free-standing building and prevent smoke from escaping into areas where smoking is prohibited. That includes patios and other enclosed outdoor areas not visible to the public.

Smoke shops that don’t meet those standards could allow customers to consume edible cannabis products. But they would not be allowed to sell marijuana products. The sale of cannabis is limited to dispensaries, which the city plans to license for on-site consumption at a later date.

The mayor has billed the plan as an attempt to give African-American and Hispanic entrepreneurs shut out of the first-round of dispensaries a chance to “participate in the cannabis economy.”

Sawyer doesn’t see it that way. He sees smoking-only lounges as a money-losing proposition.

“If I have to pay $4,400 for a license and I can’t sell [cannabis]. I can’t charge an entry fee. I can’t sell other products compatible to someone smoking cannabis to any great extent because 80 percent of your revenue has to come from tobacco-related products,” he said.

“You’re gonna force those tobacco shops willing to do that to sell weed out the back door or sell joints — like loosies. ... Businesses will be forced to get involved in criminal activity. Another new underground that we don’t want.”

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) noted that a driving force behind legalizing recreational marijuana was “righting a wrong in history where so many people were criminalized — mostly people of color.”

“Now, we’re expunging people and trying to right that wrong, but the model that we put forward doesn’t seem like it provides completely for that to happen,” she said.

Ald. Daniel LaSpata (1st) said the mayor’s ordinance “still needs a lot of work,” but for different reasons.

“If our focus is on co-locating cannabis and tobacco consumption spaces, are we potentially exposing people to second-hand smoke?... If the only value in this is being able to up-sell other products, is there potential that we’re opening up a new market for cigarettes and tobacco products when we know there’s an incredible health risk there?” LaSpata said.

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