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Ald. Reilly proposes compromise to keep recreational marijuana sales off Michigan Ave. but in Loop

The plan would cap the number of dispensaries at “three or four” and keep the lid in place “until minority-owned businesses and new market-entrants are ready to come and compete,” the alderman said.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) on Friday floated a compromise aimed at persuading Mayor Lori Lightfoot to relax her proposed “downtown exclusion zone” and allow the sale of recreational marijuana in the Loop.

Reilly’s plan would cap the number of dispensaries selling recreational marijuana in the Central Business District at “three or four,” none of them along Michigan Avenue, Chicago’s marquee shopping district.

Possible locations include Union Station and the Ogilvie Transportation Center, the alderman said.

“There’s not a lot of residential density there. It would not impact quality of life. And it would certainly get to that commuter market that could be really lucrative for us,” Reilly told the Sun-Times.

The downtown cap would remain in place “until minority-owned businesses and new market-entrants are ready to come and compete,” Reilly said.

“That achieves the mayor’s equity goals, which I share. And it also gets us revenue in years one, two and three.

“It would be a mistake for us to restrict this by drawing a circle around downtown and sending people to Lincoln Park and Fulton Market ... I’m hoping we can meet in the middle. My experience with the mayor is, she’s reasonable. I think this is an area where we can make a compromise while still achieving her key objectives.”

Lightfoot has pegged annual city revenues from the sale of recreational marijuana at a modest $10 million. Reilly argued that it’s more like $25 million a year, but only if recreational weed is sold in the Central Business District.

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

She has argued that people would be “rightfully offended” by a “two-story liquor store on Michigan Avenue” and they would likely feel the same way about a store that sells recreational marijuana.

Reilly agreed that Michigan Avenue should be off-limits. But he argued there is no comparison between a liquor store and what he called “Marijuana 2.0.” That kind of store would “blend in rather easily” in the Loop, he said.

“There’s a stigma attached to marijuana. Everyone [who] looks at it through the ‘70’s and ‘80’s lens [thinks of it as] people just getting whacked out and stoned,” Reilly said.

“It’s a very different industry now. They look like Apple stores. They’re clean. They’re bright. There’s not a lot of product hanging around. People sit there and consult you: ‘What’s your problem? What are you looking to do?’ People are not hanging out in front of these places smoking dope. They go in, they do their transaction, and they leave. It’s as quiet as going to a pharmacy.”

As for on-site consumption of recreational marijuana, Reilly said the ordinance inadvertently introduced by the mayor’s City Council floor leader was “very permissive — far more than my liking for sure.”

“You should not be able to consume cannabis in a bar or restaurant ... My preference would be stand-alone facilities ... where you can buy a membership like a cigar bar and go smoke your stuff and have a cup of coffee. A couple dozen” citywide, he said.

“I don’t [even] like the idea of co-mingling a dispensary with consumption on premises in the same place. I want to attack the stigma attached to dispensaries [as places] where people are hanging out getting stoned.”

Earlier this week, Lightfoot told reporters she’s willing to listen to those who want to relax the downtown exclusion zone. But she’s determined to share the wealth with those most victimized by the war on drugs.

“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 ... 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.”