Chicago rejects plans for Gold Coast pot shop, showing marijuana sentiment can change by the block

Chicago rejected plans for a recreational marijuana shop near the Gold Coast early Saturday morning, highlighting the tricky process companies must navigate when opening a dispensary in the city.



a group of people walking in front of a building: The proposed home to a Pharmacann cannabis dispensary at 12-14 W. Maple St. near Mariano Park in the Gold Coast on July 13, 2020.


© Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
The proposed home to a Pharmacann cannabis dispensary at 12-14 W. Maple St. near Mariano Park in the Gold Coast on July 13, 2020.

The denial of the proposed dispensary at 12-14 W. Maple St. came after almost 12 hours of discussion during a virtual Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. It was the first time since recreational marijuana became legal that the city rejected a proposed site. Six proposed dispensary sites, including the one on Maple Street, have gone before the board.

The board did not specify why it denied PharmaCann’s application. In general, it assesses applications for compliance with city codes. But with the Maple Street location, PharmaCann also faced a cadre of opponents who live or own businesses nearby — the local aldermen among them.

Eight months into legal recreational marijuana sales, the industry remains far from established in Illinois. As cannabis companies look to set up shop in the city, they face sentiment toward marijuana sales that varies by neighborhood. Some proposed dispensaries have encountered community opposition even though weed shops just a few blocks away have not.

Two of the three dispensaries that have opened in Chicago this year are one mile from PharmaCann’s proposed Maple Street location.

“It really does come down to a block-by-block differential,” said Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd, who opposed PharmaCann’s plans. “There are some blocks where it won’t work and there are some blocks where it will.”

Other marijuana companies that have proposed dispensary locations in the city can attest to those nuances.

In February, opposition arose to a proposed dispensary on the same block as Haymarket Center, an addiction treatment center in the West Town neighborhood.

NuEra, the marijuana company that proposed the dispensary at 935 W. Randolph St., has since altered those plans and found another potential location to pursue. In March, however, the board approved plans for a different dispensary to open at 810 W. Randolph St. — about three blocks from Haymarket.

PharmaCann had first proposed the Maple Street location for a dispensary, called Verilife, to the community during a meeting before the pandemic. Some residents and neighboring business owners have been vocal opponents since the beginning.

PharmaCann had another meeting earlier this month to update community members on its plans and address some of their concerns.

The Chicago-based company knew there were some opponents who could not be swayed, whatever reassurances it gave, said Jeremy Unruh, director of public and regulatory affairs for PharmaCann.

In a newly legal industry it is common to encounter people who say they support sales of the still federally illegal substance, but “not in my backyard,” Unruh said.

“In this industry, sometimes you need to assert yourselves because there are people who are still coming to grips with legalized cannabis and we understand that,” he said.

More than 50 people testified during Friday’s virtual meeting, arguing the dispensary would not be a good fit for the neighborhood.

PharmaCann needed “yay” votes from all three participating board members, and got one. It was a contrast from the board’s March meeting, during which it approved all five of the proposed recreational marijuana dispensaries it considered.

“There was just too much focused opposition to that location for them to really swallow it, I guess,” Unruh said.

amarotti@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @AllyMarotti

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