MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARY

Jars containing various strands of medical marijuana sit behind a display case at the River Rock Medical Marijuana Center in Denver, Colorado, on May 16, 2013. (Anthony Souffle / May 16, 2013)

Marijuana sellers in Chicago could only set up shop in manufacturing areas and each would need special City Council approval under a plan Mayor Rahm Emanuel and aldermen are pushing to allow them to exert local control over the execution of a statewide medical cannabis law set to take effect this year.

Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, complained that city officials were given little ability to block cannabis dealers from coming to city neighborhoods under the medical marijuana law state lawmakers passed last year.

“As of now, the city of Chicago has no law in place for the local management of this new industry,” Burke said. “And it is clearly, without doubt, a serious matter for the city of Chicago to consider.”

“I think local residents have the right to weigh in on how their neighborhood should be regulated, whether it’s a license for the sale of alcoholic beverages or a license to distribute medical marijuana,” Burke said.

Aldermen did not vote on the plan Thursday, saying they want more time to consider how to proceed as state regulators set up rules for how the medical marijuana statute will be implemented.

State law already says the marijuana dispensaries would only be allowed in manufacturing zones 1,000 feet away from residences, schools or daycare centers. Burke and Emanuel want to make the permits a special use that would also require the OK of the city Zoning Board of Appeals, a body appointed by the mayor which nearly always takes its cues from local aldermen.

But Ali Nagib, assistant director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, said Illinois standards are already extremely strict. “I would say the Illinois law is, if not the most conservative, one of the most conservative laws on this issue (in the U.S.),” Nagib said.

City officials also talked Thursday during a City Council Zoning Committee hearing about setting some kind of a local tax on marijuana sales in Chicago, but gave no specifics on how that would work.

In addition to the state rules governing the location of dispensaries, any marijuana growing operations wanting to locate in the state would face even stricter zoning rules: at least 2,500 feet from any area zoned for residential use, and the same distance from any schools or daycare centers.

The state laws says the state will license 22 growers, one for each State Police district, as well as up to 60 dispensing centers to be spread across the state. Exactly where those growers and sellers could locate will be up to state regulators. The state law says local communities can enforce strict zoning laws, but they cannot prevent a grower or dispensary from setting up shop in town.

Growers and dispensaries will be charged a 7 percent state “privilege tax,” which will be used to enforce the medical marijuana law. Patients will be charged a 1 percent tax for purchasing pot, the same rate that applies to pharmaceuticals.

jebyrne@tribune.com

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