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Chicago ReeferWalk? Marijuana shop eyes river location downtown

Dispensaries are scrambling to find locations to sell recreational weed come Jan. 1 — but a lot of hurdles remain.

Pot shops are considering locations in downtown Chicago, including along the Chicago River near Lake Street and Wacker Drive.

As marijuana shops continue to jockey for the hottest retail locations ahead of Jan. 1, one company is hoping to open a new riverfront dispensary in the Loop that could potentially include an outdoor patio for customers to get high.

A representative for the cannabis company, who asked not to be named, said the prospective site is located on the river near the intersection of Wacker Drive and Lake Street.

He said a river-level patio could “someday, somehow could possibly be an on-site consumption lounge, if the city of Chicago allows it.”

“It’s not very big, so I mean it couldn’t be a real large space, but it’s nice,” he said. “And in the summertime, it’s an enjoyable place to be. But we’ve gotta submit that application, [and] the state has to give it to us. There’s a lot of things that need to happen before that would come to fruition.”

The law legalizing recreational pot will allow dispensaries to set cannabis lounges with local approval, and those consumption spaces will be exempt from complying with the Smoke Free Illinois Act, much like cigar lounges.

The race to set up new pot shops in hot retail sectors in Chicago was first evidenced by Cresco Labs’ effort to move its MedMar medical dispensary from 3812 N. Clark St. to a building three blocks south that currently houses a John Barleycorn restaurant. Next month, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals will rule on whether Cresco can move the shop.

That pot shop, like the state’s 54 other medical pot shops, will be able to transition to selling both medical and recreational marijuana come Jan. 1.

Moreover, the Chicago Tribune reported that cannabis firms were also scouting the site of the former Apple Store on the Magnificent Mile.

Linda Mariscano — spokeswoman for GTI, another pot firm based in River North — confirmed the company is also shopping around.

“We are actively evaluating various locations in supportive communities, including in the city, that are eager to have a cannabis store, tax revenue and the new job opportunities GTI will offer,” Mariscano said.

The mad dash to claim prime real estate comes before the city has set new rules and regulations related to the changing cannabis industry, including for zoning.

“This is just window shopping until the city comes up with guidelines,” Cresco spokesman Jason Erkes said. “We’re all just in a waiting game.”

Erkes said Cresco is nevertheless looking at “high-traffic, major retail corridors” to house its rebranded Sunnyside dispensaries, which aim to mimic the breezy shopping experience cultivated by major retailers like Whole Foods and Sephora.

“For far too long, I think cannabis has been relegated to the industrial corridors and the parts of cities where traditional commerce does not exist,” Joe Caltabiano, Cresco’s co-founder and president, told the Sun-Times last month.