Weed war: Pot firms race to get city OK for 7 potential dispensaries — but only 3 will ever open

The firms are jockeying to locate in the city’s hottest neighborhoods, but state law forbids them from being too close together.

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Customers wait outside Sunnyside, a pot dispensary in Wrigleyville.

Customers wait outside Sunnyside, a pot dispensary in Wrigleyville.

Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Call it a weed war.

Cannabis firms seeking local approval to open recreational pot shops at seven different locations will take part in a special meeting Friday of the Zoning Board of Appeals — though only three will be allowed to sell weed.

That’s because six of those addresses are clustered within a pair of hot retail corridors in River North and Goose Island, so close together that they run afoul of state law which requires dispensaries be separated by at least 1,500 feet.

Even if all six earn the required special-use zoning permit at Friday’s meeting, most will be left high and dry by state regulators. In that case, licenses would be granted to the first store in each of the two separate cannabis districts to pass a state inspection when they’re ready to open.

As those candidates jockey for position, the seventh applicant — Nature’s Care — now has a clearer path to earning a license after its competitor in Fulton Market was bucked from the running for holding a required community meeting in the wrong ward. That marked the second participant to be stricken from the agenda in the lead-up to the first-of-its-kind meeting.

‘A bit of a race right now’

The biggest battle is now playing out in River North, where four companies are vying for a single state license.

Cresco Labs wants to move into a building at 436 N. Clark that previously housed the Baton Show Lounge; The Greenhouse Group has applied to sell weed at the site of an old Carson’s Ribs restaurant at 612 N. Wells; PharmaCann hopes to open at 444 N. LaSalle; and MOCA plans to set up shop at 214-232 W. Ohio.

A Logan Square-based medical pot dispensary has applied to build a stand-alone recreation pot shop at 214-232 W. Ohio St. in River North.

MOCA has applied to build a stand-alone recreation pot shop at 214-232 W. Ohio St. in River North.

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Meanwhile, MedMen and Windy City Cannabis are competing for the other contested license in Goose Island. MedMen’s planned pot dispensary at 1001 W. North is just blocks from Windy City’s site at 923 W. Weed.

So, why are so many firms trying to locate in the same areas? Though less restrictive than the previous rules for medical stores, the options for new dispensaries are still limited.

To house a recreational pot shop, buildings must be zoned correctly, be more than 500 feet from a school and be outside the city’s downtown exclusion zone for weed businesses. On top of that, building owners can’t have any outstanding loans with federally insured banks due to the federal prohibition on weed.

“The one thing we all have in common is that we have to find locations without bank debt as they won’t accept payment of our rent,” Cresco spokesman Jason Erkes said.

Jeremy Unruh, a spokesman for PharmaCann, believes that some of the companies pushing to open in River North will “fall out before things get much farther.” But for now, Unruh said there’s “really no reason not to at least get the ZBA approval.”

“I suspect it will sort itself out organically, but there’s a bit of a race right now,” Unruh acknowledged.

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NuMed is looking to open a recreational weed dispensary in a building (foreground) at the corner of Randolph and Sangamon that is steps from an entrance to The Haymarket Center drug treatment facility.

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Bids go up in smoke

The other fight had been brewing in the Fulton Market before NuMed was forced to pull back from Friday’s ZBA meeting when it became clear the company held its required community meeting outside the ward where it hopes to open.

While that development complicates NuMed’s bid to open at 935 W. Randolph, the Wheaton-based firm was already facing stiff resistance over the site’s close proximity to the Haymarket Center, a 45-year-old drug treatment facility. Ald. Walter Burnett recently came out against the proposed location in his 27th Ward for that reason. 

Nature’s Care will still seek zoning approval for its proposed site at 810 W. Randolph, which is about a block east of there.

Last week, Cresco also dropped its petition for a special-use zoning permit at an ivy-covered, red brick building at 60 W. Superior — a location that Greenhouse Group is also pursuing. Erkes said the company will now focus its attention on another spot at 21 W. Division.

“We just like the location better,” said Erkes, noting that it’s in the center of a prime shopping district.

Cresco will now hold a required community meeting Thursday at the Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites, 198 E. Delaware. The Loop-based firm can then appear at a future meeting of the ZBA. 

Cresco Labs and Greenhouse Group were both seeking zoning approval to open a recreational marijuana dispensary at 60 W. Superior St.

Cresco Labs and Greenhouse Group were both seeking zoning approval to open a recreational marijuana dispensary at 60 W. Superior St.

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