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Chicago City Council OKs rules on medical marijuana dispensaries

A vendor weighs marijuanfor patients seeking drug for medical reasons. Such shops could be coming more Chicago neighborhoods under state

A vendor weighs marijuana for patients seeking the drug for medical reasons. Such shops could be coming to more Chicago neighborhoods under state law, though the Chicago City Council imposed what restrictions it could on Wednesday. | Getty Images

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Updated: July 31, 2014 7:59AM

Bemoaning the fact that their hands were tied by the Illinois General Assembly, the City Council on Wednesday imposed what rules and restrictions it can on the sale and growth of medical marijuana in Chicago.

“Whether or not it’s a good ordinance, it’s the ordinance we’re going to have to live with,” said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd). Noting that medical marijuana is “big money,” Fioretti said, “I am worried about how we enforce or make sure our communities are safe. We need to be careful. We need to listen to our communities. But at the same time, it is the law. And an outright ban by some people who say, ‘It’s not good. We can’t have it in our community,’ will fail.”

Ald. Edward Burke (14th) made no bones about it. He wanted more regulation than the ordinance approved Wednesday ended up giving the City Council. But the General Assembly did not allow it, the alderman said.

“To think that the largest municipality in Illinois would be ignored in the planning process for this admittedly groundbreaking legislation is hard to understand, but that’s the case.... This is, at this late stage of the game, about all the city can do,” Burke said. “Anyone seeking to establish a dispensary or a cultivation center here in Chicago will need to come before the Zoning Board of Appeals and be issued a special use. It gives neighbors an opportunity to see who’s gonna be in the business. It gives neighbors an opportunity to tell the city whether or not traffic congestion or traffic concerns are being properly addressed.”

Aldermen initially wanted to hide medical marijuana dispensaries on the outskirts of the city. Instead, they will likely coming to busy shopping areas, under the zoning rules adopted Wednesday. That means a medical marijuana dispensary could potentially open next door to a tony restaurant on Randolph Street or in River North near touristy fast food joints, according to new zoning regulations approved Tuesday by a the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards. Essentially, most business and commercial strips are fair game.

“You could have [a dispensary] right next door as long as the zoning is applicable,” Zoning Administrator Patti Scudiero said this week. But dispensaries, which could be located throughout the city, won’t be allowed in any building that is used as a residence. And entrepreneurs will have to seek special-use permits, which would trigger a public hearing before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals; at such a hearing, area residents could object, identify the owners and scrutinize their backgrounds.

“We tried to put together the best ordinance that would allow for the service of the medical cannabis, but it’s also going to be looking out for the interest of our community, residents and schools,” Zoning Committe Chairman Danny Solis (25th) said this week. The state requires dispensaries to be 1,000 feet away from schools and other places kids frequent.

“In a perfect world the city of Chicago would treat dispensaries no differently than pharmacies. However, we applaud the committee’s recommendations,” said Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project. “We believe that it will help that seriously ill patients are not treated as second-class citizens and have reasonable access to regulated dispensaries in the city.”

The ordinance approved Wednesday is a far cry from Burke’s original proposal to confine dispensaries and marijuana growers to manufacturing districts near the airports and the Lake Calumet area because it seemed, initially, that there were few areas in the city that met the location requirements dictated by the state.

Contributing: Becky Schlikerman

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