Chicago tobacco sellers with past convictions for selling drug paraphernalia could lose their tobacco retailer licenses under a plan being pushed by a Lakeview alderman who hopes to thin out a dense collection of "head shops" he said are drawing the ire of neighboring businesses.
Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, said there are about 10 stores selling "tobacco accessories" in the vicinity of Belmont Avenue and Clark Street. Tunney defined those items as including rolling papers, rolling machines and pipes, items that are sometimes used for smoking marijuana in addition to tobacco.
Tunney has proposed an ordinance that would prohibit the city from issuing or renewing a license to sell tobacco to anyone who sells tobacco accessories who has a felony conviction in the past 5 years for selling drug paraphernalia. An earlier version of the ordinance would have barred anyone with a similar conviction dating back 10 years from holding a tobacco sales license.
The City Council License Committee approved Tunney's plan today. It will head to the full City Council for consideration next week.
Asked whether he wants to use the ordinance to close some of the tobacco shops in the traditionally edgy but increasingly gentrified shopping area near the center of his ward south of Wrigleyville, Tunney said "I hope so."
Tunney said business owners around Clark and Belmont have complained to him in recent years that they don't want to operate near the stores.
"People feel that there's potential drug activity happening at these, the sale and such," Tunney said. "It has become a nuisance in our neighborhood."
"The proliferation and the fact that they are stacked up side by side, we really have heard from businesses and the chambers (of commerce) that this is putting a damper on retail activity in the neighborhood, like 'I don't want to be next to one of these things,'" he said.
Mark Thomas, owner of The Alley, a venerable punk rock clothing and accessories store on Belmont who is planning to run against Tunney for alderman, said the plan is wrong-headed and potentially illegal.
"How can the city say that if you have a drug paraphernalia conviction you can't sell tobacco products?" Thomas said.
The ordinance would also require shops selling tobacco accessories to report to the city how much shelf space they devote to the products, and the percentage of their total sales that come from the accessories. Tunney said those new reporting requirements will help the city get a handle on what goes on in the stores.Copyright © 2015, RedEye