Lighting up

Medical marijuana could light up Chicago's trendy neighborhoods under a city council measure passed Wednesday. (David Sutherland)

Medical marijuana dispensaries will be sprouting up in Chicago's commercial and business districts, such as the trendy West Loop and River North areas, under a city council measure approved Wednesday restricting where the facilities can open their doors.

But the 13 dispensaries allowed in Chicago will be prohibited from opening in buildings with residential units, in manufacturing districts and in transportation corridors, according to the measure.

Already, state law prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet—roughly three football fields—of a school or day care center.

While the state’s medical marijuana law went into effect Jan. 1, state rules on the medical cannabis pilot program were approved this month.

The city ordinance defined, among other things, where the dispensaries and a cultivation center are allowed to set up shop.

“Consequently, the city now in this instance is relying on its home rule authority to adopt zoning laws that will permit local residents to have a say in where these dispensaries and cultivation sites can be located in these neighborhoods,” Ald. Ed Burke (14th) said during the city council meeting.

The dispensaries are required to get a special use permit approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals. The special use permit requires a public hearing, but not city council approval. That’s when residents will have the opportunity to raise concerns, such as traffic, and find out who will be behind the dispensaries, Burke said.

The original proposal co-sponsored by Burke would have allowed dispensaries and cultivation centers only in manufacturing zoning districts.

“After careful consideration and a good deal of work by the city’s law department and zoning administrator, there, I believe, exists in this ordinance a good balance between the needs of the people who are suffering from grave medical conditions and the desires of neighborhood residents to have say so in how their neighborhood is going to be impacted,” Burke said.

Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said when the dispensaries open depend on the state but there can be up to two in each city township, which are based on property assessment district boundaries.

Should the one cultivation center in Cook County land in Chicago, the cultivation center is allowed in manufacturing districts and planned manufacturing districts, provided they are 2,500 feet away from schools, day care centers and dwelling units.

According to a city map, the areas where medical marijuana cultivation centers could go near Lake Calumet, I-55 or O’Hare.

The cultivation center will require special use permit approval by the city and the letter from the city’s zoning administrator certifying the site meets local regulations, Strazzabosco said.

“Whether or not it’s a good ordinance, it’s the ordinance we are going to live with,” Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said. “We need to be careful, and we need to listen to our communities. But at the same time, it is the law, and an outright ban by some people that say, ‘It’s not good, we can’t have it in our community’ will fail the intent of this law.”