Evanston Health and Human Services Director Ike Ogbo speaks against a cannabis lounge proposal on March 22, 2023 as members of the city’s Land Use Commission look on. Credit: Matt Simonette

The Evanston Land Use Commission unanimously refused on Wednesday, March 22, to back a text amendment to the city’s Clean Air Ordinance that would allow cannabis consumption lounges.

Some of the commissioners indicated that allowing such lounges would be a bad precedent, since they would be largely inconsistent with city rules prohibiting similar establishments where smoking is permitted, such as tobacco retail stores and hookah lounges.

The Land Use Commission decision is ultimately an advisory vote. The proposal came from city staff after an initial inquiry put forth in a January Health Services Committee meeting by City Council Member Bobby Burns (5th Ward). Burns asked about the logistics of amending the Clean Air Ordinance to allow the cannabis lounges. That committee approved an amendment in February that would eventually need City Council approval.

State law says that cannabis lounges are legal only when they are adjacent to a dispensary or a tobacco retail stores. The only dispensary in the city is the Zen Leaf store at 1804 Maple Ave. Another dispensary, which would be in conjunction with a bakery, has been proposed for a July opening at 100 Chicago Ave. Zoning Administrator Melissa Klotz said that a potential applicant for a business at 1633 Chicago Ave. would likely want to have a cannabis lounge but had yet to file any paperwork. 

Commission Chair Matt Rodgers was reticent to even entertain the idea with a long discussion, since nobody had actually filled out an application yet. He added that the commission would likely have to revisit the discussion—the proposal says that any cannabis lounge would need a Special Uses variance—if an actual proposal came before them.

 “The city is ahead of itself, and this is a solution in search of a problem,” Rodgers said. 

But Commissioner George Halik disagreed with Rodgers, explaining, “I’d like to communicate our commission’s attitude to anyone who would think about doing this.”

Commissioner Jeanne Lindwall added, “It’s important for us to decide if we as a commission feel like this is even appropriate for Evanston.”

Among those speaking against the proposal were resident and Evanston Health Advisory Chair Don Zeigler, who urged the commission to “follow the advice of public health, legal, traffic safety experts and our own public health department, that approving cannabis smoking lounges goes contrary to public health and education of our youth. These lounges may also open the door not only to indoor cannabis consumption but also tobacco, hookah, cigars and vaping.”

Ike Ogbo, the City’s director of health and human services, agreed with Zeigler, arguing that Evanston has been at “the forefront” with its clean-air regulation, and that the lounges would be a “step backward.” Ogbo also noted that, while persons who patronize such lounges would certainly be accepting the risks from first- and second-hand smoke, “[The city’s] job is to ensure the public health of the entire community.”

Internist Bruce Doblin also spoke against the proposal.

There were ultimately no supporters to be found on the commission. Rodgers warned that the proposal could be a “back door” to establishments permitting forms of smoking the city has long banned. Lindwall said she found the proposal “problematic.”

Commissioner Brian Johnson added, “I don’t see myself supporting any kind of lounge with cannabis, tobacco or any other type of smoking.”

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  1. Scenario 1: restaurants, bars, etc considered general use where customers were consistently subjected to smoking—don’t allow smoking indoors.

    Scenario 2: a business with a dedicated license that allows smoking indoors and the customer has the up front knowledge of this and rightfully chooses to patron or not.

    We should allow smoking lounges that require appropriate ventilation and displays its purpose.

    It’s a simple accommodation.