Plan Commission passes dispensary zoning amendment for Council consideration

Emma Yarger, Reporter

Evanston’s Plan Commission unanimously passed an amendment for City Council consideration to reduce the required distance between cannabis dispensaries and primary and secondary educational institutions at a Wednesday meeting.

This issue was introduced by Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) at a November City Council meeting concerning Howard Street. The street is the main point of contention due to the differences in dispensary zoning laws between Evanston and Chicago.

Chicago dispensaries are currently able to open just 500 feet from schools. Under the current requirements, Evanston dispensaries must open 750 feet from any school building.

At the November City Council meeting, Rainey said she didn’t want Evanston to be penalized for this difference.

“So we can’t have, in certain areas on Howard Street, any kind of cannabis sales ever,” Rainey said in November. “Chicago distance is 500 feet. Chicago on their side of our street can have cannabis retail. But we can’t because of their school.”

The schools located closest to this possible location are UCSN Rogers Park Charter School and Jordan Elementary Community School, both within Chicago city limits.

Many on the Plan Commission said dispensaries would be more inclined to set up shop in Chicago rather than Evanston due to the different zoning regulations. The commission passed the amendment to allow dispensaries in Evanston to commercially compete with dispensaries located in Chicago.

The commission also discussed guidelines for cannabis growers, infusers, processors and transporters. Businesses that produce large amounts of cannabis odors are regulated to industrial zones while dispensaries will be located in business zones.

“From the discussion that we had with City Council, it was pretty much agreed that we would prohibit consumption,” said Meagan Jones, the Evanston neighborhood and land use planner. “Now, it’s possible that at the state level, there may be some changes.”

Such changes would benefit cannabis users. It is currently illegal to smoke cannabis outside, and many apartments have no smoking regulations. Allowing on-site cannabis consumption would benefit people who live in apartments, often including communities of color and low-income communities.

Looking forward, commissioners expect changes in the strict regulation of on-site consumption, which is currently prohibited due to the Smoke-free Illinois Act.

Rainey acknowledged that tweaks need to be made to the zoning amendment, but said she is thrilled plan commissioners voted in favor of passing it to council.

“I am grateful they understood and accepted the change,” Rainey said. “It affects so many other areas — it wasn’t just (8th Ward).”

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