Evanston alders advanced a plan Tuesday night to repeal health rules that bar on-site consumption of cannabis at any licensed business in the city.
Concerns about cancer and other health risks appeared to be outweighed for some members of the Human Services Committee by the vision of generating more tax revenue for the city’s pot-tax-funded reparations program.
Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said cannabis consumption lounges are allowed under state law. He called it “a revenue and entertainment opportunity — similar to alcohol.”
And Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said he’s been trying to recruit more dispensaries to Evanston and has found that many are interested in also having on-site cannabis consumption.
But Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said she tended to agree with Don Zeigler, chair of the city’s Health Advisory Council, that the change would be a mistake.
During public comment, Zeigler, who teaches public health courses at Loyola University and the University of Illinois Chicago, said allowing cannabis smoking in places where it’s now prohibited would undermine laws protecting people from secondhand smoke.
He cited statements from the American Lung Association that marijuana smoke is harmful to lung health.
Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) said he was most concerned about staff that might work in such lounges — assuring that the businesses had sufficient air filtration to reduce secondhand smoke.
Reid said he agreed that air filtration is “one of the most important factors.”
He suggested that an ordinance permitting cannabis consumption lounges should treat them as a special uses that would require a hearing before the Land Use Commission and then City Council approval.
But Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) said she was “very nervous” about the proposal.
She said she was concerned about associating it with the city’s reparations program in the event the concept “doesn’t do well.”
“I think we need to have a lot of discussion about this topic,” she added.
But Burns said, “The way we adopted our reparations ordinance, it is literally tied to our ability to expand our cannabis businesses.”
The committee asked staff to prepare proposed changes to the city code to allow the cannabis lounges that the committee could then consider at a future meeting.