CITY HALL — Head shops face a new law calling for more stringent reporting to the city in an ordinance amendment proposed by Lakeview's alderman.
The ordinance by Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) was approved by the License Committee Wednesday. It would call on shops selling "tobacco accessories" such as rolling papers, rolling machines and pipes to report the percentage of shelf space devoted to the products.
"The ordinance is primarily about data," Tunney said, but later acknowledged it was designed to be a nuisance for what he called "bong shops."
"It will also educate them about the [state] Drug Paraphernalia Act," he added. "They will be more cautious."
State law prohibits the sale of drug paraphernalia, with violations considered a felony, but Tunney acknowledged that so-called tobacco accessories are "not inherently illegal," even when clearly designed for smoking substances other than tobacco.
If the ordinance clears the full City Council next week, it would call on shops to report the percentage of shelf space devoted to pipes and bongs to the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. Tunney said it would aid both that department and Chicago Police in tracking down stores that violate the state law, even though that law has no provisions on shelf space.
Tunney called it a "quality-of-life issue" for both residents and neighboring businesses, and said the shops have an "impact on the community," saying they act as a "damper on the retail corridors."
He did not cite any shops specifically, but said "there's plenty" along Belmont Avenue and Clark Street.
Yet Tunney's announced opponent in next year's aldermanic election, Alley owner Mark Thomas, called the ordinance "silly," adding that it only proves Tunney is actually "the arch nemesis to small business in Chicago."
"We're seeing legal marijuana all over the place in the United States," Thomas said. "And here we are passing this silly ordinance to make it more difficult for people to run a business."
Thomas agreed the "proliferation of head shops" is a problem, adding that the Alley, 906 W. Belmont Ave., stopped selling pipes and such over a year ago. "So many head shops opened in the neighborhood, it was like I couldn't make any money on it," he said.
Yet Thomas said a better solution would be to separate smoke shops from tobacco shops, determined by the percentage of sales devoted to actual tobacco products, and then to submit smoke shops to more stringent zoning requirements.
Thomas also objected to additions in the ordinance making it illegal for felons who committed their crimes within the last five years to get a tobacco license, which he said could affect the owner of a convenience store. "So this is bad for small-businessmen who might have made a mistake in their life," Thomas added. "I think that Chicago has become the most unpleasant place in America for small businesses to do business, and this is an example of that."
Yet other aldermen suggested Tunney's ordinance didn't go far enough.
"This is kind of scary," said Ald. Deborah Graham (29th). She wondered aloud if the city needed to ban the display of smoking paraphernalia in store windows and sought to crack down on "this free-will living kind of stuff."
The ordinance cleared the License Committee unanimously, but Graham added, "We probably need to do a little bit more."
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