Rejecting concerns of health advocates, members of Evanston’s Human Services Committee voted 3-2 Monday night to allow cannabis smoking establishments in the city.
During public comment, Derrick Cabrera, community advocacy director for the American Heart Association, said his group strongly opposes creating public places where people can smoke cannabis because cannabis smoke contains many of the same cancer causing chemicals that are in tobacco smoke.
Janet Kirby, an Evanston psychiatrist, said cannabis has adverse effects on the brain — especially in young adults whose brains aren’t yet fully developed.
It can damage the ability to make good judgments and self-regulate behavior, she said, adding that cannabis users are at three times as much risk as other people of attempting suicide.
“Some adults can get away with using a little pot now and then,” Kirby said, “but not emerging adults.”
But Matthew Brewer, CEO of Family Roots Dispensary, which has won a social equity license to open what would be the first Black-owned dispensary on Chicago’s south side, said he hopes to also open a dispensary in Evanston.
He said opposition to cannabis consumption lounges is rooted in opposition to marijuana legalization.
Dispensaries “are some of the most regulated spaces a person can ever be in,” with cameras taking in every angle of the space.
He said a consumption lounge in Evanston “could advance equity” and create opportunities for minorities where the broader cannabis industry has not.
Ald. Devon Reid (8th), who sponsored the proposal, said that with the filtration systems required for lounges, smoking there would avoid the risk to “other folks who don’t want to be exposed” when a pot user lights up at home.
Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said the committee shouldn’t be debating the moral issue of whether adults should be allowed to consume legal substances.
He said that unlike “back in the day” when cigarette smoking was allowed in restaurants, cannabis lounges under state law are forbidden from serving food or alcohol, so the cannabis smoke “does not impact anyone else who does not want to inhale it.”
Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said she was concerned about workers in the lounges who might not be well informed about the dangers of the smoke they would be exposed to.
Given her long history of advocating for clean air acts, “I’m going to choose to go with our public health professionals’ input this evening and oppose this ordinance,” she said.
Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) said she agreed with Revelle — “it’s counterproductive to the clean air act.”
But Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) said, “As long as there’s an adequate air filtration system so it doesn’t affect the staff, I don’t see any problem with this.”
The first cannabis lounge in the Chicago area opened last April at the Rise dispensary in Mundelein.
Any additional cannabis establishment in the city would add to the tax revenue that’s being used to fund the city’s reparations program.
Under the proposed ordinance any cannabis lounge proposal would require individual approval as a special use by the City Council
The proposed ordinance now goes to the full City Council for introduction, likely next Monday. Final action, then, could come at the Council’s Feb. 27 meeting.