Not in our backyard: Gold Coast residents fight to keep pot shops out of their neighborhood

“Less than two miles west of us are industrial areas that many people believe this type of store would be much better suited for,” said Vern Broders, president of the Gold Coast Neighbors Association.

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The Gold Coast Neighbors Association is opposing two proposed locations that could house the neighborhood’s first weed store.

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Gold Coast residents are pushing back as a pair of Loop-based pot firms look to set up shop in the upscale neighborhood.

Cresco Labs wants to sell recreational weed at 21 W. Division St., while PharmaCann hopes to open at 12-14 W. Maple St. Though both planned dispensaries are located near multiple establishments that already serve alcohol, members of a community group are concerned that a pot shop could “give rise to more crime.” 

“We just don’t believe it belongs in the middle of our residential neighborhood,” said Vern Broders, a business leader who serves as president of the Gold Coast Neighbors Association.

Broders noted that residents are already grappling with “a longtime problem with drug dealing” near Division and Clark streets. Now, they’re worried that a new, cash-only cannabis business would attract “easy targets” for robberies and other crimes, he said.

While Broders claimed that folks from the Gold Coast largely support marijuana legalization, many want the drug sold elsewhere. Three-quarters of the 200 residents who responded to a recent survey opposed a dispensary opening in the neighborhood.

“The parents of schoolchildren are naturally concerned about having cannabis customers roaming in the neighborhood,” he said. “Less than two miles west of us are industrial areas that many people believe this type of store would be much better suited for.”

Cresco and PharmaCann will both hold required community meetings at 6 p.m. Thursday. Broders estimated that around 50 neighbors will split up to attend the dueling public forums.

Cresco spokesman Jason Erkes said the company looks forward to “debunking the myths with statistics about crime rates, property values and the overall general impact a dispensary has on a community.” He pointed to an analysis of a series of studies published last year by Leafly that, among other things, found crime near dispensaries “generally stayed flat or decreased.”

“We understand a lot of the community is scared of something new — especially when misinformation is being spread,” said Erkes.

PharmaCann spokesman Jeremy Unruh said he’s worried Gold Coast residents “have not been properly informed” about the company’s intentions. In addition to operating fewer hours than allowed under state law, utilizing “state-of-the-art security systems” and creating a system for managing lines, Unruh said customers would never be allowed to use weed on-site.

“We look forward to having an open, civil dialogue about what we propose, inviting the community’s feedback in the process,” Unruh added.

Both companies will also appear Friday at a special meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals as they pursue additional locations in the city.

Cresco and PharmaCann are among the four firms already competing to open the first pot stores in the hot River North neighborhood. Because all those sites are clustered closely together and state law requires them to be 1,500 feet apart, only the first dispensary to win zoning local approval and pass a state inspection will be permitted to open. 

The same rule will come into play in the Gold Coast, where the proposed stores are just blocks away. That means the concerned Gold Coast residents ultimately only have to worry about one dispensary opening for now.

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