Survey on proposed medical marijuana dispensary is trending against the project, says Ald. Napolitano


by BRIAN NADIG

A survey on a proposed medical marijuana dispensary at 6428-30 N. Milwaukee Ave. indicated that most nearby residents oppose the plan, but additional feedback is needed before a hearing on the project is held next week, according to Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st).

"I would not want to live next to (the dispensary), but I need to act on what you want," Napolitano said at a May 19 community meeting attended by about 100 people. "This is not about the alderman."

Napolitano said that his office has been conducting a door-to-door survey of those living within 2,000 feet of the site and that ‘the trend’ is against the proposal. He asked residents to vote "yes" or "no" on the project on a form that was distributed at the meeting and said that additional home owners near the site are being contacted.

Napolitano, who was sworn in as the ward’s new alderman on May 18, said that the recommendation which he gives the Zoning Board of Appeals at its May 28 meeting will be based on the survey results but that there is no guarantee the board will agree with him. The board acts independently of the City Council, and it is not unusual for it to go against an alderman’s recommendation.

The site’s B3-1 zoning requires the issue of a special use permit for a dispensary. Special uses typically are required for business, such as massage parlors and liquor stores, which raise community concerns.

Napolitano said that he could request that the board delay the hearing but that project officials have indicated that their state license would be in jeopardy if the special use were not granted this month. The state approved a dispensary license application for the site last February, but it is contingent on several factors, including the issuance of a special use.

Additional clarification on the state deadline is being requested from Union Group of Illinois, which would be operating the dispensary, according to Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio.

The dispensary would be located inside a former medical supply store, and a 20-space parking lot would be built on an adjoining vacant lot. Plans call for 24-hour security which will include armed guards and video surveillance and for the dispensary to be open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Concerns were raised that the medical dispensary would begin to sell marijuana for recreational use if that were to become legal and that it is not needed because another area dispensary is being opened at 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave. "It’s 10 minutes down the road," a resident said.

Project attorney Joe Gattuso said that the zoning board can place additional restrictions on a special use to better address the community’s concerns and that attempts to change the scope of permitted products at the site would trigger a new zoning review process. He said that Union Group’s dispensary would be one of two permitted in Jefferson Township under state law.

Several residents spoke in favor of Union Group’s proposal. A woman said that she would consider using medical marijuana if her cancer were to come out of remission, and a man said that as a father of small children he understands the community’s concerns but feels that the needs of those with debilitating diseases should take priority.

Children who suffer hundreds of seizures a week have seen that number reduced to a few a day by taking a form of marijuana that is administered in drops, Gattuso said.

Under state law patents are unable to open the packages of marijuana which they buy at a dispensary until they arrive home, and the marijuana can be offered in several forms, including pills and edible products, Gattuso said. Pharmacies such as Walgreen’s and CVS do not sell medical marijuana due to federal guidelines, prompting the need for state laws that authorize marijuana dispensaries, he said.

Union Group program manager John Davis said that customers will "discreetly come in and leave" and that given their serious health conditions, he cannot imagine that they would cause disturbances in the neighborhood. He said that 4 percent of the dispensary’s profits, which could be up to $20,000 a week, would be donated to local charities and community groups.

The Norwood Park Chamber of Commerce sponsored the community meeting.


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