Hookah bar to allow pot

Kierra Frazier

DeKALB — Students and residents who are 21 and older and aren’t able to use marijuana in their residence halls or apartments will soon be able to smoke cannabis at Aromas Hookah Bar, 811 W. Lincoln Highway.

Cameron Dye, an owner of Aromas Hookah Bar, said he hopes the changes will allow Aromas to act as a sanctuary and boost business.

“NIU is a smoke-free campus,” Dye said. “[Aromas] is meant to help students that don’t want to put their education in jeopardy so they have a place they can come to indulge or stress relief, especially during finals.”

While Illinois law allows adults age 21 and over to possess and purchase recreational cannabis, the possession and use of cannabis are prohibited on campus due to a federal law, the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act. The law applies to NIU because the university receives federal funding.

Dye said customers will be able to use marijuana in the shop within two to three weeks after Aromas obtains insurance for their updated business.

“There’s a chance this can help increase enrollment at NIU,” Dye said. “Since students would have an option to use marijuana at a safe place, it might bring up the population of NIU since it has been declining.”

Dye said customers must show their photo identification before entering the bar and can expect to pay $7 for the first two hours and then $5 for every hour after that to use marijuana in the lower level of the bar.

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The bar is now able to allow marijuana in the shop after DeKalb City Council members passed an ordinance on second reading to amend Chapter 64 of the Municipal Code to comply with the state’s cannabis laws.

The revisions to the municipal code allow the use of cannabis on the same terms as the use of tobacco under the City’s smoke-free ordinance. This would allow the use of cannabis in smoke shops and smoking rooms in hotels or nursing homes, while the smoking of cannabis is still not allowed in public places per the state law, according to the Feb. 10 agenda. The owners of smoke shops, hotels and nursing homes would retain the right to privately prohibit the smoking of cannabis in their establishments.

Second Ward Alderperson Bill Finucane was the only one who didn’t support the amendment. He tried to amend the ordinance to remove the use of cannabis in smoke shops but didn’t get support from other council members.

In January, a Springfield marijuana dispensary was the first in the state to open a spot for people to smoke marijuana, according to the Jan. 21 Springfield City Council minutes.

Dye said the bar could also be used for those who live out of state and for parents or children who are 21 or over that don’t want to use marijuana in front of each other.

“We just got in touch with the police just to go over bases with them and become a familiar face for them, so we can show we’re a respectable company,” Dye said.

The DeKalb Police Station, 700 W. Lincoln Highway, is located across the street from the hookah bar. Dye said people have been concerned that police may set up sting operations or inspect the hookah bar at random.

“The police told me that they’re going to treat it like a bar in a sense where they’ll do their checks and everything, but they’re not out to arrest people,” Dye said. “As long as you’re following the law, you have nothing to be afraid of.”

DeKalb Police Commander Steve Lekkas said the police department and owners of Aromas have a good relationship. He said police will conduct business checks at Aromas similarly to how they conduct license checks at bars for alcohol.

“I assume a lot of patrons may be walking over from [residence halls] or NIU property that are close by, which isn’t an issue,” Lekkas said. “But for those that want to drive there, they have to be responsible with how they transport [the cannabis].”

Marijuana needs to be transported in a sealed and odorless container, according to state law.

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Dye said for those who do wish to use marijuana in the shop, they should not drive afterward.

“We’re trying to be as responsible as possible,” Dye said. “We want to reach out to rideshare programs like Uber and Lyft that can give discounted rates for people leaving.”