• Alex Nitkin
    NOV 15, 2019

    Cannabis lottery set to map out dispensary locations

    The drum that city officials will use to conduct a lottery to determine where 31 cannabis can sell the drug legally in Chicago. [Alex Nitkin/The Daily Line]

    City zoning officials are set to conduct a lottery on Friday to decide which cannabis purveyors get dibs on the limited number of available spots city officials said recreational dispensaries can set up shop.

    Members of the Zoning Board of Appeals will draw names from a list of 31 dispensary owners who are licensed by the state to sell cannabis across the Chicago region, including eight operators with city addresses.

    Zoning rules approved by the City Council last month divided the city into seven equal districts, each of which must contain at least seven dispensaries before any additional dispensaries are allowed. The policy was created to “ensure equal distribution of dispensaries citywide,” officials said.

    Each eligible remaining dispensary owner will have three minutes to “choose its preferred district” as soon as an envelope with their name is drawn from a lottery drum, city planning officials said on Thursday. Once seven dispensaries have been approved in any single district, the remaining businesses will have to choose a different one.

    All 11 of the city’s existing medicinal dispensaries will be allowed to sell recreational cannabis as soon as the legalization law takes effect on Jan. 1. Under the new law, each operator is permitted to open one additional location.

    With 11 of the city’s 49 dispensary spots already taken, 38 recreational locations will be available through the lottery: three in the North zone; four in the Northwest zone; six in the West zone; seven in the Central zone; six in the Southeast zone; five in the Southwest zone; and seven in the Far South zone, according to the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

    Dispensary owners will be able to apply with the Zoning Board of Appeals for special-use permits to sell cannabis anywhere in their selected district, as long as they comply with zoning rules. A series of last-minute tweaks to the rules banned dispensaries from opening on properties zoned B3 or C1 without a special use permit.

    Operators participating in the lottery have one year to apply with the zoning board for permits to open dispensaries at specific addresses.

    At least two weeks before they appear before the zoning board, dispensary owners must host at least one “community engagement meeting” in the ward where they want to open, according to the rules released last month. 

    Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced an ordinance on Wednesday to soften penalties for people found in “unlawful possession” of cannabis, and to update the Chicago Police Department’s “enforcement protocols” so they align with the new law.

    Under the city’s current rules, people can be fined up to $500 for being found in possession of small amounts of pot, and police are directed to impound cars if they find any amount of cannabis inside.

    Lightfoot’s proposed ordinance would set a $50 penalty for anyone ticketed for “minor unlawful possession,” which is defined as less than 30 grams of cannabis carried on public property, inside a car or “any place prohibited under the Smoke Free Illinois Act.”

    The ordinance would end the city’s directive for police to impound cars in which cannabis is found.

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