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Restaurant group opposes plan for on-site consumption of recreational marijuana at bars, restaurants

Illinois Restaurant Association president Sam Toia says only so many consumption licenses will be awarded by the city of Chicago, and the restaurants and bars that get them will have an unfair advantage.

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia (left) with Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, and then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the 2016 James Beard Awards in Chicago.
Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia (left) with Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, and then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the 2016 James Beard Awards in Chicago.
Sun-Times file photo

Chicago could be inundated with places where recreational marijuana could be smoked and consumed, under a sweeping ordinance drafted and prematurely introduced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s City Council floor leader.

But, in a surprise move, Illinois Restaurant Association president Sam Toia opposes allowing bars and restaurants to apply for consumption licenses.

“Who gets these licenses? I don’t think you can give incidental licenses to all restaurants. There’s only gonna be so many licenses that are gonna get out and that won’t be a level playing field,” Toia said.

“We want to make sure that [recreational marijuana is] is not competing with our great culinary scene. Restaurants are here to serve food. Bars are here to serve spirits, wine and beer and show great events. So we at the restaurant association feel, just let the dispensaries dispense” and allow consumption.

What about Lightfoot’s controversial decision to declare the Central Business District off limits for the sale of recreational marijuana?

“This could be livable. … It makes sense to keep it family-friendly and tourist-friendly. That’s what the mayor is trying to do,” Toia said.

“In the central business district, we have a lot of people that go to our great restaurants and great hotels. If they’re coming to visit our city for cannabis, they can walk north of Oak Street or west of LaSalle. We are a walking city.”

Lightfoot’s proposed “exclusion zone” would stretch from Oak Street to Ida B. Wells Drive. The eastern boundary is Lake Michigan; the western edge is LaSalle Street in River North and the Chicago River in the Loop.

Aldermen from across the city have argued 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 where tourists and conventioneers spend most nearly all their time and money.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that Chicago would allow the public consumption of marijuana in dispensary showrooms and adjacent “cannabis cafes,” in licensed restaurants and bars and in the offices of doctors and even “beauty professionals” under the sweeping plan proposed by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), the mayor’s floor leader.

Villegas, chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Economic and Capital Development, said the “not fully-baked” ordinance was introduced “accidentally” by his staff. He intends to pull it back for more negotiations.

Even as just a starting point, the Villegas ordinance offers a window into how far Chicago could go in authorizing and licensing the sale and on-site consumption of recreational marijuana.

It would create four different categories of on-site consumption:

• Incidental licenses: For an annual fee of $2,500, licensed restaurants and bars could apply for “incidental consumption on premises licenses.”

• Dispensaries with two sub-categories: showrooms offering “tasting or sampling” of non-smokable cannabis products, with fees ranging from $500 to $10,000 depending on size; and cafes “located either on-site or directly adjacent to a licensed cannabis dispensary.” The fee for “on-site cannabis consumption co-location” site would be $5,000. Neither would require a special-use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals — meaning neighbors do not need to be notified or consulted.

• Cannabis cafes “whose primary purpose” is to “allow for consumption on premises.” The license fee would be $100.

• Professional licenses: This category would allow for “doctors, researchers, health, wellness, beauty professionals and services to allow for consumption on the premises incidental to their services.” The annual fee would be $1,000.

Cannabis on-site consumption licenses located in areas with the business and commercial zoning designations B-1, B-2 and C-1 “shall not allow consumption on premises of smokeable cannabis after 9 p.m. and before 8 a.m.,” the ordinance states.

On-site consumption licenses in all other zoning designations — except off-limits residential areas — “shall not allow consumption of smokeable cannabis after 1 a.m. and before 7 a.m.,” the ordinance states.