Could downtown become a ‘pot paradise’ after all? – Chicago Sun-Times

An ordinance filed Monday could allow a flood of new cannabis dispensaries to move into a downtown “exclusion zone” where Mayor Lori Lightfoot has blocked pot sales.

In addition to giving so-called social equity applicants the ability to set up shop in the restricted area that includes some of Chicago’s most sought after real estate, the proposal sponsored by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) would allow those groups to bypass some of the onerous zoning requirements for cannabis businesses.

Villegas told the Sun-Times that his plan would help “level the playing field” for the social equity applicants, a designation created to diversify the state’s lily white weed industry.

Those social equity applicants await Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature on a recently passed bill that will unleash a flood of new licenses allowing some of those applicants to open 120 new dispensaries. Another 75 licenses created earlier are in limbo until the state holds a lottery to determine the winners.

Villegas’ proposal has already drawn the ire of some social equity applicants and it could set the stage for a battle with Lightfoot, who rebuffed another plan earlier this year to allow pot sales downtown. “We’re not turning Michigan Avenue into pot paradise,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times in January.

Villegas, who previously served as Lightfoot’s City Council floor leader, argued that some cannabis businesses wouldn’t be out of place in the Loop.

“Some of the stores that are currently in place look like Apple stores,” he said. “Everything’s open for discussion. If the mayor doesn’t want to have Michigan Avenue, there are other locations that are near Michigan Avenue.”

Lightfoot’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The initial proposal has already come under heavy fire from members of the influential Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition, which is pushing the city

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