The Evanston City Council is set to debate loosening the city’s ordinance regarding alcohol and marijuana possession during its meeting Monday, Jan. 23.

Fifth and Eighth Ward Council Members Bobby Burns and Devon Reid are pushing to have the ordinance be no stricter than Illinois state law concerning possession of open containers.

For the most part, the Evanston Police Department is on board.

The city currently bundles its possession and consumption laws for both substances under City Code 9-5-10. The two council members are proposing to separate the cannabis and alcohol rules to add clarity.

The proposal makes amendments to restrictions on possession of the substances, but doesn’t propose changes for consumption.

The amendments would permit drivers to possess previously opened alcohol and cannabis in a motor vehicle, as long as the substances are secured in a sealed or resealable container that’s inaccessible.

Council Member Devon Reid Credit: City of Evanston YouTube

This change will make the ordinance mirror the state law, Reid said.

“Our ordinance is stricter than state law,” Reid said.

Evanston’s ordinance currently prohibits the possession of opened alcohol and marijuana in any area of the vehicle, even if the substances are in the vehicle’s trunk.

“That doesn’t comport with I think the behavior of many Evanstonians and with our values,” Reid said. “I think folks are fine to cork a bottle of wine and put it in their trunk and drive home with it.”

The state’s alcohol possession and cannabis possession laws permit transporting the substances as long as they are inaccessible and in a sealed or resealable container.

In the Evanston Police Department memo to the city council regarding this proposal, EPD doesn’t raise an issue with those changes.

However, EPD disagrees with one proposed change to rules on the possession of alcohol in section C of the ordinance, which would prohibit the possession of open containers of alcohol only in public buildings, parks and beaches.

Currently, the city prohibits the possession and consumption of open containers of alcohol and cannabis in “public buildings, parks, beaches, highways, streets, alleys, sidewalks, parkways and public parking lots.”

“The proposed language would still prohibit consumption in all of these areas,” EPD said in its memo to the city council. “However, the update submitted to Council would only prohibit the possession of open containers of alcoholic beverages in public buildings, parks, or beaches. Other public spaces, as described above, would be removed from the ordinance.”

The proposed change follows language in the state’s Illinois Cannabis Control Act, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Program Act and the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act and would allow possession of open containers in many public spaces.

EPD said it opposes the change because it “would impact the quality of life of Evanston residents, visitors, and business owners.” The department wrote it is concerned that changing this part of the ordinance would cause “disorderly and unlawful behaviors.”

“Removing this language forces the police department to wait and observe someone actually consuming the open beverage, something most people won’t do upon seeing a police officer in the immediate area,” EPD said in its memo. “They will, however, continue the behavior immediately upon our departure if the issue is not addressed.”

EPD recommended that the council keeps the language in section C of the ordinance regarding open alcoholic beverages untouched. And for the council to “entrust that the Evanston Police Department will continue to use appropriate discretion to gain compliance with these matters.”

Council member Reid, however, is concerned that leaving the language as it stands leaves room for the ordinance to be enforced unfairly.

Evanston’s opinions on alcohol have changed drastically since it was a dry city, Reid pointed out. The city began accepting liquor ordinance license applications in 1972.

In March of last year, the City’s Economic Development Committee supported the idea of allowing alcohol to be served on the lakefront patio at Arrington Lagoon, though that discussion has since been tabled.

“Today, we have outdoor cafes where people sit outside on the sidewalk and consume alcohol,” Reid said.

“So our community standards have changed tremendously, and if we’re fine with wealthy folks sitting out on sidewalks drinking wine, then what is the problem with someone who is homeless standing outside and drinking their own alcoholic beverage? You know, what is really the issue there?

“Are we unfairly enforcing laws against people that we see as as ‘less than’ and using it as a way to control specifically their behavior but not other folks’ behavior?”

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the Evanston RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative...

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