Residents react to plan for medicinal pot site


Concerns that a proposed medical marijuana dispensary at 4760 1/2 N. Milwaukee Ave. would attract criminals who would prey on customers at the dispensary were expressed at a Dec. 11 community meeting held by Alderman John Arena (45th).

Representatives of Euflora Natural Health Center told the 25 residents at the meeting that armed guards would be stationed outside and inside the dispensary and that one of the guards would be available to escort clients to their cars. The guards would be off-duty police officers who work in the area, according to Euflora officials.

Project attorney Bernie Citron said that any risk facing dispensary customers is similar to those who leave a pharmacy with prescription drugs. "(Medical marijuana) is far safer than some of the narcotics you can but at Walgreens, and it is more controlled," Citron said.

However, one resident at the meeting said that the difference between a drug store and a dispensary is that a criminal would know that the dispensary customer has marijuana while it would be less clear what is in a bag being carried out of a drug store.

The resident also expressed concern that Euflora would be a cash business, but project officials said that transactions should not exceed $75 and that some banks in Illinois are looking into allowing some form of electronic payment for marijuana. Banks have been reluctant to allow electronic payment for marijuana due to federal banking and drug regulations.

Citron said that opening a dispensary takes a large financial investment and that Euflora would work closely with law enforcement officials, who would have live access to the store’s security cameras, to ensure safety in and around the dispensary. "We have too much at risk," he said.

Other residents said that they welcome the dispensary because it would fill a vacant storefront, which was last occupied by an unlicensed social club, and that using medical marijuana is an effective treatment for diseases. One woman said that marijuana is less addictive than existing drugs sold at drug stores and that the she has broken the law to acquire marijuana for severely ill friends and the dispensary would eliminate the need for her to do that.

Some residents asked why medical marijuana cannot be sold at existing drug stores rather than at dispensaries. Arena said that drug stores would risk losing federal subsidies by selling medical marijuana because under federal law marijuana is considered an illegal controlled substance. Illinois is one of about 20 states which have legalized medical marijuana or are in the process of doing so.

Euflora’s proposal is one of six for dispensaries in Jefferson Township, which covers the Northwest Side south to North Avenue and east to Western Avenue.

Under state law, two dispensaries are allowed in Jefferson Township, and it is expected that no more than one would be allowed in the 45th Ward, where sites for four of the six applications are located. The other ward locations are at 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave. and two near Montrose and Cicero avenues.

Under the proposal by Euflora, clients would have to show a security guard two forms of identification, including their state-issued medical marijuana prescription card, to be admitted to the dispensary. The identification cards would be verified a second time inside the dispensary, and they would not be returned until the client leaves.

Anyone without a medical marijuana prescription card would not be allowed inside the dispensary. Under state law, prescriptions are available for about 40 chronic illnesses and patients are allowed to purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

Deliveries of marijuana to the dispensary would be made through a garage door that would be installed at the rear of the building, and delivery times would vary each week as a security precaution. None of the products, including cannabis leaves and foods with marijuana, would be removed from the delivery vehicle until the garage door is closed, and the products would then be placed in a vault.

Euflora owner Jamie Peroni operates three marijuana dispensaries in Colorado which sell marijuana for recreational use, and one of them also sells medical marijuana. Peroni said that she got into the business because she saw how effective marijuana was in aiding a terminally ill relative during her final months.

Citron said that if Illinois legalized marijuana for recreational use, Euflora would not be allowed to sell recreational marijuana without going through a new approval process. The special use permit which Euflora is seeking from the city Zoning Board of Appeals would restrict sales to medical marijuana and that recreational sales would require a different special use, he said.

The zoning board could vote on Euflora’s request for a special use at its meeting on Dec. 19. The board already has granted a special use for a dispensary at 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave., but the state will not issue any dispensary licenses until next year.

One of the proposed dispensaries would be in a medical building with a parking lot near Cicero and Berteau avenues. A resident said that she would prefer having a dispensary that has a parking lot for its clients and that is not part of a traditional retail district.

Arena said that he plans to hold community meetings on all of the applications for dispensaries in the ward. An earlier meeting on the dispensary being sought for 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave. attracted about 65 people, and reaction to the plan was mixed. Arena did not speak for or against the dispensary when the zoning board heard the matter.