Recreational cannabis in Illinois was made available for purchase on January 1, 2020. While this sounds great for both medical patients and recreational users alike, there are stringent restrictions on where consumers can light up. For example, those who rent their home or apartment or are visiting from out of town may struggle to find a place to legally consume cannabis. The State of Illinois recognizes this dilemma and is trying to accommodate cannabis consumers by permitting tobacco stores and dispensaries to allow on-site consumption, a decision that has received backlash from both lawmakers and constituents. 

Scratching Your Head? 

Yes. The same bill that legalized adult-use cannabis gave an exemption to the Smoke Free Illinois Act that allows retail tobacco stores that “derive more than 80% of its gross revenue from the sale of tobacco or smoking accessories” to allow marijuana consumption on-site. Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago introduced an ordinance earlier this year that would allow the aforementioned tobacco stores to obtain a license from the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) to allow on-site consumption of marijuana. Many of the tobacco stores that would be eligible already allow on-site consumption of tobacco products. Allowing for on-site consumption of marijuana comes at a hefty price to the retail tobacco store, however. Under Lightfoot’s plan, the tobacco stores would have to obtain a two-year licensing at the cost of $4,400 and install high-tech ventilation systems.  

As previously mentioned in our “Illinois Social Equity Program & Licensing” blog post, Illinois is aiming to have the most inclusive social equity program. And Mayor Lightfoot’s ordinance aims to follow suit. She stated, “With this legislation, more entrepreneurs will be eligible to participate in the cannabis economy, including those who have borne the brunt of the War on Drugs, and Chicago’s residents will have the opportunity to consume cannabis in a safe location.” The city is working to create a framework that ensures social equity is the main priority by dedicating financial assistance to small businesses. These funds are coming from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF), the Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF), the Catalyst Fund, and through Tax Increment Financing (TIF). The BACP will also be offering business education workshops designed for entrepreneurs looking to get their foot in the door in the world of legal marijuana.  

African American aldermen have raised concern for retail tobacco stores allowing on-site consumption, citing that it “will pave the way for a new wave of drug arrests targeting their constituents because there are only 42 free-standing smoke shops in Chicago, none of them on the South and West sides.” This raises the question of whether or not the ordinance will actually work toward social equity and include those affected by the War on Drugs in the legal market. 

The ordinance was scheduled to be voted on in January, but the vote was postponed due to an alderman being absent. The vote was rescheduled for the following week but has been postponed indefinitely.  

On-Site Consumption Via Dispensaries in Illinois  

Illinois Supply and Provisions, a dispensary in Springfield, Illinois, has been approved by the City Council to open an on-site consumption area. This would be the first of its kind in the state. The Regional Director of Illinois Supply and Provisions has stated that the consumption area “will be separate space in the same building as its downtown Springfield location at 7th and Adams streets.” The opening date of the consumption area has not been determined yet.   

An ordinance was passed in Rock Island, IL that allows for on-site consumption of marijuana at dispensaries. Cannabis cafes, cannabis smoking lounges, cannabis vaping lounges, and cannabis clubs are all allowed under the ordinance. The ordinance allows dispensaries offering on-site consumption to be located “in all industrial zoning districts and all business zoning districts except the B-1: Neighborhood Business District.” 

It is unlikely to see dispensaries in Chicago allow on-site consumption any time soon. Constituents and lawmakers have both vocalized disapproval of the idea. Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd) has raised the concern that if dispensaries allow on-site consumption that they would become “party magnets” and have problems that “spill out onto the street” similar to a “problem” bar. Constituents have also made it clear that they do not want dispensaries and consumption lounges in the same building. The question is, for how long will this limited range of options be tenable for the residents of Illinois? Particularly for those who receive federal housing subsidies, or who live in facilities run by the state and specifically those who receive federal funds? While the floodgates seem to be opening in Illinois, there appears to be a strong need for more robust coordination of policies related to consumption starting at the local level.