Pharmacist Barry Golin says that he believes medical marijuana should be in the control of pharmacies. Image: Chicago Tribune Video
Oct 21, 2014
Chicago Tribune - The list of would-be medical marijuana purveyors seeking permits to locate in Chicago includes a trucking company founder and strip club owner, a former Clinton White House aide who's now a Latino issues advocate and two brothers who own a popular bar and video game arcade.
To wend their way through City Hall, applicants have hired seasoned attorneys such as Brendan Shiller, the son of former longtime 46th Ward Ald. Helen Shiller; Nicholas Ftikas, a land-use specialist at the firm of the brother of former City Council Zoning Committee Chairman William Banks; and Amy Kurson, the law partner of Victor Reyes, a former City Hall operative during the tenure of Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Those players and others will take their turns beginning Friday at the city Zoning Board of Appeals to ask for special-use permits to open the first-of-their-kind operations in Chicago. If they get over that hurdle, the final decision will be left to state regulators who dole out medical marijuana licenses based on geography and other criteria.
The locations applicants selected vary greatly, from relatively isolated locations on Lake Street beneath "L" tracks on the Near West Side to a location on Elston Avenue across from a PetSmart on the North Side.
Interest is greatest on the West and Northwest sides, where access to public transportation and highways is plentiful, a fact well known to Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno, whose 1st Ward includes some of the hippest Northwest Side neighborhoods.
"I literally had more than 30 entities come to see me about opening up a dispensary in the 1st Ward," Moreno said.
He's backing two locations, including one on the 1300 block of North Milwaukee Avenue that would be sandwiched between a long-established pharmacy owned by pharmacist Barry Golin and the Emporium Arcade Bar run by Danny and Doug Marks.
Many potential marijuana dispensary owners "came looking at making cash, making a quick buck," not realizing "this is a long-term investment," Moreno said. Golin and the Marks brothers told the alderman they were in it for the long run and had the medical and business experience needed to make it work
, he added.
"This group has the most comprehensive plan that I saw," Moreno said. "I really like that a pharmacist is behind this. He has been distributing drugs that are much more dangerous than marijuana for 30 years on Milwaukee Avenue — not illegally, obviously."
The application by Golin and the Marks brothers is among four scheduled for Friday zoning hearings. Another 12, along with one applicant seeking approval to launch the city's only proposed cannabis cultivation center, are tentatively on the agenda for the November meeting.
State law limits the total number of dispensaries in Chicago to 13 and requires that they be spread across the city, with no more than two per township, and allows only two cultivation centers in Cook County.
Out of 27 city applications for a license filed with the state, 16 are in two townships on the West and Northwest sides where only a total of four dispensaries will be allowed.
Many potential applicants sought a blessing from aldermen as well as initial rulings from city officials that they met basic zoning regulations and did not violate the state requirement that dispensaries be at least 1,000 feet from a school or day care center.
Another applicant up for a hearing Friday is a company operating under the name of Kind Care, led by Chairman Jose Cruz, according to information the company has posted online. Cruz, an attorney, once worked in the White House under former President Bill Clinton as assistant to the director of Hispanic Affairs before going on to become a lobbyist, activist and consultant on Latino issues.
Ald. Deb Mell, 33rd, said she has written a letter of support for Cruz's application for a building on the 3500 block of North Elston Avenue. She said that when she was in the Illinois House and voted in favor of allowing medical marijuana, she was moved by testimony from people who wanted to be able to use the drug legally for their ailments.
Another applicant on Friday's agenda is Green Thumb Industries, which wants to set up shop on the 900 block of West Lake Street. Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, said he will ask that it be delayed a month so the community can meet with the potential operators.
Another facility proposed for Burnett's ward and set for a November hearing would be called Custom Strains and would be located on the 1100 block of West Fulton Street. Perry Mandera, who owns The Custom Companies freight transportation firm and VIP's, a Gentleman's Club, on the near North Side, is seeking that permit.
VIP's is the only strip club in the city that serves alcohol. Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year accepted a $2.5 million settlement from VIP's in a case involving a long-running dispute over how much skin could be exposed at the club.
"Mr. Mandera owns dozens of businesses," said Shiller, his attorney. "His primary business is one of the premier transportation businesses in the country. ... One of his dozens of businesses is an adult entertainment club that he took over after it received several violations."
Mandera has owned the club for 21 years "and hasn't received a single violation since. That's the record of a pretty good manager who knows how to comply with strict regulations. ... It's exactly what you want with someone who is going to manage medical marijuana in the 21st century."
Mandera also wants to build the city's only cultivation center on more than 7 acres of land on the Southeast Side that was the site of former steel mill operations. He would combine that operation with a hydroponic vegetable and fruit growing operation, Shiller said.