Despite concern that medical marijuana is a “cash only” business that breeds crime, the City Council on Wednesday squelched — probably for good — a security crackdown that would have required cultivation centers and dispensaries to hire around-the-clock security guards and prevent “public viewing” of pot.

Mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti (2nd) and his Progressive Caucus colleague Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) used a parliamentary maneuver to put off consideration of the watered-down security ordinance until the next Council meeting, but the delay is likely to be permanent.

That’s because Fioretti claims to have an opinion from the city’s Law Department that says the ordinance championed by two powerful aldermen oversteps the city’s home-rule authority.

“The real question here is, why didn’t the Law Department come forward when they knew they had an opinion? Why are they hiding certain information? Who are they protecting? Typical of this administration. They hide documents. They keep hiding things from the City Council,” Fioretti said.

“Safety is paramount in everything we do. But, under compassionate use of marijuana laws, the [Illinois] Departments of Finance and Professional Regulation and Agriculture have promulgated regulations on security and the transportation of marijuana. Our ordinance runs afoul of it. We cannot regulate them. Somebody should have come forward and been open with us that there were questions as to the legality of the ordinance.”

A copy of the legal opinion prepared for the Mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs makes it rather clear that the ordinance advanced by the Zoning Committee goes too far.

It concludes that state law already outlines security and transportation measures that marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers must follow and that “no local municipality shall impose” restrictions that go beyond those terms.

“The requirements set forth in the proposed ordinance would not be in the city authority to enact,” the opinion states.

“The proposed ordinance attempts to regulate in subject matters that IDPR has already issued regulations for…Thus, the proposed ordinance runs afoul of the home rule pre-emptions and the city cannot regulate these entities in this manner through the special-use permit.”

Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th) initially proposed a strict ordinance that would have required dispensaries and cultivation centers to load and unload marijuana out of sight.

They agreed to soften the ordinance — and drop the requirement for a secure loading area not visible to the public — amid concern that it would create an “undue burden” for the fledgling medical marijuana industry.

Instead, their revised ordinance approved by the Zoning Committee last week without a word about the legal issues was worded more generally.

It states: “Medical cannabis dispensing organizations shall not be maintained or operated in a manner that causes, creates or allows the public viewing of any cannabis, cannabis-infused products, cannabis paraphernalia or similar products from any sidewalk or public or private right-of-way.”

Loading and unloading of marijuana or marijuana-infused products would still have to be conducted under the supervision of an “Illinois-licensed private security contractor” whose guards would have to be maintained “24-hours-a-day, seven days-a-week.”

Burke could not be reached for comment about the legal roadblock. Last week, he portrayed medical marijuana as an “all-cash” business that poses “unique and serious safety concerns.” That’s because, since marijuana remains illegal under federal law, federally regulated financial institutions “generally do not provide banking services” to marijuana-related businesses, he said.

The alderman noted that there were 317 burglaries and seven robberies reported at Denver’s 700 licensed marijuana stores and cultivation centers over the last two years and that similar facilities in California have been the scene of “at least three fatal shootings.”

Then he told a harrowing story of violence in California that must have scared his colleagues half to death.

“It began when three men broke into the home of dispensary owners in Newport Beach, California, according to police reports that surfaced last fall. They zip-tied the man, dragged him into a van, burned him with a blow torch, doused him in bleach, severed his penis, and then drove away with it all in a bid to learn where he was hiding his cash,” Burke said.

“Now, the industry lobbyist appends press releases with this unusual note: ‘To understand the importance of fixing banking, please read this story [under the headline], ‘Marijuana clinic owner’s penis cut off.’ “

Burke was just getting warmed up.

“I’m not making this up, ladies and gentlemen. This is what’s going on in [California and] Colorado. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to enact a provision in our municipal code to maintain reasonable amounts of private security at locations where this product is gonna be sold and distributed,” he said.

Burke isn’t the only one who has raised security concerns.

On the hot seat at City Council budget hearings, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy went public with his professional misgivings about the sale of both recreational and medical marijuana after conferring with his counterparts in Washington and Colorado.

“It’s a cash-only business because the federal government will not let them use banks to put their money away,” McCarthy said then.

“When I refer to crime problems surrounding medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, I’m not talking about reefer madness. I’m not talking about people who smoke marijuana and lose their minds. What I’m referring to is the robberies, the burglaries, the home invasions and, in some cases, shootings that surround the actual business of it.”

Colorado and Washington are learning the hard way that the lure of cash translates into rising crime, the superintendent said.

“We should spend some time researching lessons learned from other places before we just wholesale say, ‘Boom. There’s money involved,'” McCarthy said.

“What people don’t take into account is the cost of crime. And if you make $7 million in revenue from taxes from some sort of legalization of marijuana and you lose $20 million based upon crime, you’re in the red. And that’s never looked at, quite frankly.”

Originally posted on 11/19/2014 at