CHICAGO — Following three long and contentious meetings, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals approved permits for two new weed dispensaries close to Downtown without any objection Friday.
The Herbal Care Center, at 222 S. Halsted St. in Greektown, and PharmaCann, at 60 W. Superior St. in River North, received special-use permits at the monthly virtual meeting of the board. The permits are a city requirement, but the two proposed dispensaries still need a state license before they can open.
In August, the board rejected PharmaCann’s bid to open a dispensary on Maple Street in the Gold Coast at 2:15 a.m. after 12 hours of debate, led by opposing attorney Eugene Murphy and at least 50 residents who didn’t want a dispensary opening in their affluent neighborhood.
The September and October meetings were contentious at first as well, but ended with dispensaries NuEra and Dispensary 33 getting the city’s approval to open across the street from one another in the West Loop.
On Friday, neither dispensary application was opposed by neighbors. If they receive state licenses, they will become the 15th and 16th dispensaries to open in Chicago.
The two approvals come after statewide cannabis sales eclipsed $100 million in October for the first time since recreational sales began in January. They also followed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to avoid laying off 350 city workers in 2021 by borrowing $15 million against the city’s future tax revenues from cannabis sales.
But cannabis operators have complained the city’s zoning rules have prevented more dispensaries from opening in the city. Cannabis industry newsletter Grown In reported 10 companies are looking to open in the suburbs rather than deal with Chicago’s bureaucratic slowdowns or aldermanic indifference.
On Friday, Zoning Board Chairman Timothy Knudsen extended the deadline for city dispensary applications until March 2021, citing the pandemic for slowing the process. Before his amendment, the deadline was Nov. 15 of this year.
The Herbal Care Center, or THCC, hopes to replace the former Roditys restaurant. If granted a state license, the dispensary would be the fifth permitted to open in the city’s West Cannabis District, joining THCC’s shop at 1301 S. Western Ave., and three along Randolph St. in the West Loop.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) supported the project, but worried the dispensary could “come between” his friendship with dispensary owner Perry Mandera if promises to bring Black leadership to the dispensary are broken.
I hope “we can figure out a way to allow for African Americans to have some type of piece of this dispensary, and he assured me that he would,” Burnett said of Mandera, a trucking executive and former strip club owner. “He’s always been a man of his word and I hope that he will keep it.”
At the company’s current dispensary at Western and Ogden avenues just south of the Illinois Medical District, more than 80 percent of employees are Black or Latino, said Brendan Shiller, an attorney with a stake in The Herbal Care Center. If approved by the state, the Greektown location would hire people from neighborhoods most affected by the war on drugs.
Shiller told Block Club the company hopes to open the dispensary early next year pending a state license.
“It is our goal to have a grand opening by Valentine’s Day, which would be the four-year anniversary of opening our Ogden location,” he said.
PharmaCann Finally On A Path To Opening In Coveted Area
PharmaCann landed two spots in the coveted Central Cannabis District — the district closest to Downtown — at last year’s zoning lottery, but has faced setbacks obtaining a permit to open a shop in the lucrative area.
Before their Gold Coast location going up in smoke, the company withdrew an application to open at 444 N. LaSalle St., fearing the building’s landmark status could delay construction.
With a special-use permit in hand, the company hopes to earn a state license and join Cresco Labs, 436 N. Clark St. and MOCA Modern Cannabis, 214 W. Ohio St., in luring Downtown workers and tourists to their weed shop when the pandemic subsides.
The dispensary would be open from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on an appointment-only basis, according to Bill McMenamy, PharmaCann’s chief revenue officer. McMenamy testified Friday that the company is “gravitating toward” the use of an app that would allow customers to pay by showing a QR code instead of handling cash.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) raised no formal objection to the plan, having directed PharmaCann to the River North Residents Association for vetting, according to Katriina McGuire, an attorney representing the firm.
The association endorsed the dispensary after PharmaCann agreed to add more exterior lighting and enlist a private “neighborhood security patrol” to watch the block, McGuire said.
The company committed $2.5 million in “social equity considerations,” including to the state’s Cannabis Business Development Fund and an incubator program to “foster some diversity among the ownership” of dispensaries,” testified Jeremy Unruh, director of public and regulatory affairs at PharmaCann.
He added that PharmaCann is a member of the “cannabis advisory board” for Olive Harvey College in Chicago, whose “cannabis curriculum” has been drawn up with help from PharmaCann staff.
Unruh did not say whether any non-white investors have an ownership stake in the company, and he did not detail the demographics of its workforce.
Following the meeting, Unruh told Block Club the company was “pleased” their application gave the board “comfort to unanimously approve” a permit.
“With the work our landlord has been doing to get the site in order, we’re on track to open around the New Year,” he said.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Already subscribe? Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.