Council member’s bid to allow cannabis lounges snuffed out

Council member’s bid to allow cannabis lounges snuffed out

Council member Reid suggests he may find anther way to bring the issue back to the Council

By Bob Seidenberg
A City Council member’s proposal to allow cannabis consumption lounges in Evanston failed to make it out of committee Monday, April 24, bringing an end to the issue – at least for now.

Members of the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee voted 4-2 against a proposal by Council Member Devon Reid (8th Ward) to allow marijuana lounges as a special use.

Eighth Ward City Council Member Devon Reid. Credit: Gina Castro
Reid had proposed amending the city’s current zonng ordinance, which specifically prohibits the consumption of marijuana at any business establishment in the city.

He and other advocates for the amendment have argued the matter should be viewed as an equity issue for residents who live at properties where cannabis consumption is prohibited – such as rental units, apartments and multifamily buildings, including those on Northwestern University’s campus.

At the April 24 Planning and Development meeting, Reid said that “what we are creating is a situation where we are forcing people – we’re potentially putting people in a position where they could jeopardize their housing or jeopardize their life and safety or the health of someone in their care because they are forced to smoke cannabis in their own house.”

But other committee members cited the city’s top health official’s concerns about secondhand smoke and other reasons for not moving ahead.

“I was on the council when we eliminated indoor smoking in Evanston, and we were at the vanguard at that point,” said Council member Melissa Wynne (3rd Ward).

“I won’t go backwards,” she said.

Black, Brown communities more affected: Reid

Consumption lounges may serve tobacco via hookah or cigars, not just cannabis, and are not currently allowed in Evanston, noted Melissa Klotz, the city’s Zoning Administrator, in a memo. The state allows consumption lounges, including cannabis use, at retail tobacco stores, which are not a listed eligible use in Evanston, she said.

A handful of Illinois cities have established cannabis lounges, with the closest in Mundelein.

During earlier hearings, some of Evanston’s top health officials and organizations such as the American Lung Association argued against the city establishing lounges, citing the dangers of secondhand smoke.

“Creating allowances for cannabis or vaping in public settings can expose non-cannabis users to secondhand cannabis byproducts, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], contain some of those chemicals in higher amounts,” said Donald Zeigler, chair of the Evanston Health Advisory Committee, at the Feb. 6 Human Services meeting. “The American Lung Association specifically states that “No one should be exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke.”

In discussion at the April 24 meeting, Reid acknowledged such concerns were legitimate. At the same time, he said, “We have in Illinois and throughout our nation in many states, and potentially soon nationally, the realization that the past practice on the war of drugs, particularly cannabis, has not been successful. It just caused more harm than good in our country, our communities.”

Devon Reid

Reid said that according to 2019 CDC data, 1 in 5 Americans had used cannabis at some point.

“If you live in an apartment building, in many leases it (cannabis use) is against the rules. We know that in Evanston our Black and Brown communities are more likely to live in rental units than their white counterparts.”

House of Dank not needed: Nieuwsma

Other committee members joined Wynne in opposing the amendment.

Like Wynne, Council Member Eleanor Revelle (7th Ward), said her vote would be a “hard no.”

“I think our testimony from our various health experts is very persuasive,” she said.

Housewalk 2023
Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th Ward) said in addition to air quality and public health reasons, “I am concerned about the image and perception of Evanston.”

He related that during a summer road trip to northern Michigan last year, he was driving down road, approaching a tourist community.

“There was a big sign on the side. The sign said ‘House of Dank,’” Nieuwsma said. (The House of Dank bills itself as a leading recreational cannabis dispensary.)

“That’s not what we want to have,” he said. “Instead, we want Evanston to be lively and warm and welcoming for families, a vibrant community. We want outdoor dining, for example, in the downtown and the Arrington Lagoon.

“We don’t need a House of Dank.”

‘Incredibly inappropriate’: Burns

Addressing the committee earlier, Donald Zeigler argued that approving cannabis lounges goes contrary to public health measures assuring clean indoor air.

“And if you have a financial interest,” he said to panel members, “please recuse yourselves from voting.”

Zeigler didn’t name a specific council member. Earlier in the year, however, the RoundTable asked Council Member Bobby Burns (5th Ward) about a possible conflict of interest.

in 2021, Burns and his team at Herban Garden LLC won a cannabis craft grow license.

At that time, Burns said he had no intent to open a cannabis business in Evanston, and was instead looking for a warehouse space in Chicago. Herban Garden is not operational yet, with Burns still raising funds to officially launch the craft grow business.

Burns strenuously responded at the April 24 meeting when Council Member Clare Kelly (1st Ward), chairing the meeting, asked him about Zeigler’s recusal comment.

Burns called the question “incredibly inappropriate,” noting that the city has a special ethics counsel for such questions. For the record, he said, “I do not have a conflict.”

“But more importantly, file an ethics complaint,” Burns said, challenging those who might think he had a conflict. “And what you will find out, what will always be true, is that my integrity is unblemished.”

“I would really encourage our community to be a bit more sensitive about things that you weigh against people,” he added, “especially when you have not looked into it.”

Responding, Kelly told Burns that “I wasn’t questioning your integrity or suggesting that you’ve done anything at all.”

Kelly said she was simply asking the question after the point was raised during public comment. “I just thought you would like the opportunity to clarify that. That’s all.”

Committee members voted 4-2 against moving the proposal out of committee to the council floor, effectively ending discussion.

After the meeting, Reid, passing by the press table, was asked if the issue is dead for now. He has sponsored several referrals on cannabis lounges and hookah bars, attending various committee meetings to speak in their support.

“I never let things die, so you’ll see it again,” he responded, chuckling along with reporters at the question. “It will be resurrected.”

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