Logan Square residents grilled representatives of a proposed Milwaukee Avenue cannabis dispensary Wednesday (March 11) night, concerned about everything from harmful customers to parking squeezes. Neighborhood members spoke at a community meeting hosted by 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack.
The proposed dispensary would go into the old Logan Square Trust & Savings Bank building at 2551 N. Milwaukee Ave. Like all such dispensaries, this one must host a community meeting, in accordance with city policy. Waguespack, whose 32nd Ward includes the proposed site and much of Logan Square, said he was “generally” supportive of the project.
Representatives of PharmaCann, the company behind the proposed dispensary, laid out their plans for the site, emphasizing their commitment to the neighborhood. Waguespack then welcomed questions and comments from the meeting attendees, at the Minnekirken Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church (2614 N. Kedzie Ave.). He also encouraged additional comments and questions from the public.
“Tonight, we’re going to have the organization talk about what they’re going to do at this location,” Waguespack told meeting attendess.
The dispensary — which would be called Verilife, like PharmaCann’s other sites — would be open Monday to Saturday from 9-9 p.m. and Sunday from 10-6 p.m.
Safety, Crowded Streets … and Maybe a Daycare?
Attendees raised a number of concerns about how the dispensary would affect the neighborhood.
One attendee wondered about the levels of “dram insurance” that PharmaCann has for the proposed Verilife location, referring to coverage for damages caused by patrons at establishments selling alcohol. The attendee feared what would happen if someone got high at the dispensary and hurt someone. PharmaCann representatives said such issues wouldn’t apply, because customers wouldn’t consume any products on site at the dispensary.
“I would think that dram laws would be more applicable to businesses that were authorizing on-site consumption of the products they’re selling,” said Jeremy Unruh, director of regulatory and government affairs for PharmaCann.
To an attendee concerned about safety in product packaging, Unruh said that all Verilife’s products would be prepackaged at cultivation centers in child-resistant, tamper-evident, opaque packages that are labeled with contents, potency and third-party inspection certifications.
Other attendees mentioned difficulty parking on Logan Boulevard, how little room is in the alley by the proposed site, and how the building would affect traffic on Milwaukee Avenue and Logan Boulevard. Attendees also asked how VeriLife would deposit its cash into banks and how the building would operate dumpsters.
Some said that the location would better serve the neighborhood as a daycare center.
Respecting the Neighborhood
Unruh told meeting attendeees that PharmaCann would “respect your neighborhood.” That would include hiring from the neighborhood and staying dedicated to a social equity program that aims to benefit those populations historically impacted by the war on drugs, he said. Company representatives also mentioned PharmaCann’s partnership with the Logan Square Preservation Society (3150 W. Logan Blvd.).
The company anticipates 40 to 50 jobs at the proposed dispensary, starting at about $17 an hour. Managers would make $55,000 to $65,000.
“And the people that work in our dispensary will be recruited from this neighborhood and will look like this neighborhood,” Unruh said. “We also want to network with the other businesses.”
Under PharmaCann’s social equity program, required by law, the company teaches and funds teams made up of individuals affected by the country’s past drug policies. “Last year, in December, PharmaCann started our very first social equity program where we take two teams” and teach them processes in the cannabis business, said April Reed, PharmaCann’s compliance attorney. “We give them 24/7 access to all of our staff members, and under the bill we’re required to give them $100,000. We gave them well over $100,000. And these two teams really embody the social equity provision where individuals that have been impacted by the war on drugs” are given restorative justice.
Unruh spoke enthusiastically about the project. One “of the wonderful things about this 610-page law that they passed in June was the notion that this is social equity, diversity and inclusion, bringing in people that don’t necessarily look like me into the industry,” he said. “Those people from communities that were hit hardest by the war on drugs, giving them an opportunity to be in this space is really, really, really important to us. The other part is restorative justice. How do we fix the rights that were taken away, or the lives that were broken, over this tenure of the war on drugs?”
PharmaCann will also host internships and has sponsored two more teams to shadow the company’s operations and staff.
Unruh said, “It’s great to touch four teams, but it’s even greater to touch the thousands of people that use community colleges to get themselves trained up for a good-paying job, for economic independence, and to us that’s really important.”
PharmaCann representatives walked meeting attendees through the layout of the proposed dispensary, which would be the company’s fourth in Illinois, all currently outside of Chicago. Under the company’s “Chicago plan,” PharmaCann would open three dispensaries in the city, including the one in Logan Square and two in the central part of the city.
Company spokespeople also emphasized that the new dispensary would only sell its products — no one would be using them at the store.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about what dispensaries actually are, let alone how PharmaCann or Verilife operates our dispensaries,” said Mathew Levine, director of new markets for PharmaCann. “This is a retail location. There is no consumption on site. We are not seeking consumption if that becomes available … nothing like a bar or anything of the sort. People are coming into a very secure environment, they are purchasing a product, and they are securely leaving.”
First Watch will be the security contractors at Verilife per the state law, which requires contracted security at dispensaries, PharmaCann reps said at the meeting. First Watch contractors are current and retired local and federal law enforcement officers. The agency is headed by two former ATF officers.
Zoning Moves Come Next
Beyond the community meeting, the proposed dispensary still has a lot to do before construction could begin. The building’s zoning must change from a B3 to a C2, because the Cannabis Zoning Ordinance in Chicago does not allow dispensaries in B3 zonings.
“What we have to do is change the zoning if that’s something that we want to move forward on,” Waguespack said. “And then it would go to the Zoning Board of Appeals … So it’s a multistep process.”
Waguespack also distributed literature that said, “The application for this zoning change has been filed and notices were sent out to property owners within 250 feet of the subject site. The committee typically meets once a month, and we will notify interested parties if and when the proposed zoning change is placed on the committee’s agenda … The Committee on Zoning will, by practice, approve the proposed change if Alderman Waguespack indicates his support.”
“Focused on Illinois”
PharmaCann reps said the company’s ambitions trace back to the origins of legal marijuana in the state.
“We are a company that started back in 2015, when Illinois brought into being its medical marijuana program,” Unruh siad. He spoke of his time as an assistant state’s attorney and as a private-practice lawyer. “One of my partners, back in 2015, who had a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics, this weird medical researcher type, turned to me and he said, ‘I just applied for a whole bunch of these crazy medical marijuana licenses.’ And when Illinois awarded our company more of these licenses than any other group that had applied, he and I and one other person walked into our managing partner’s office, and we pulled the ripcord, and we never looked back. And that was five years ago.”
According to Unruh, “PharmaCann is a vertically integrated operator, which means that we cultivate and grow the plant, harvest the plant, we process the plant … we extract the oil from those plants just like one might decaffeinate coffee.” Once the oil is extracted, the next step is to convert it into the various retail products offered. PharmaCann has four cultivation centers, two in Illinois, one in Pennsylvania and one in the Hudson Valley area north of New York City. The company has 12 dispensaries in operation.
“We are focused on Illinois. This is our home here in Chicago,” Unruh said. “We actually have medical marijuana license No. 1 in the state of Illinois.”
Featured image: Tom Vlodek