Concerns that state could legalize recreational pot raised at medical dispensary meeting


Whether a proposed medical marijuana dispensary at 6428-30 N. Milwaukee Ave. would ever sell marijuana for recreational use if the state law allowed it was one of the issues raised at a July 23 community meeting.

“Five years time we’ll have no say in the matter when it’s recreational,” a resident told the crowd of about 75 people at the Oriole Park fieldhouse, 5430 N. Olcott Ave. “This is the first step. Don’t be fooled.”

The man said that he does not object to medical marijuana but that he feels the Union Group of Illinois, which is proposing the dispensary, cannot make enough money selling only medicinal pot and that to recoup its $1 million investment, the company is hoping that the state approves the sale of recreational marijuana.

Project officials said that the special use permit which they are seeking from the city Zoning Board of Appeals will only allow for medical marijuana at the proposed location and that, if the state were to legalize recreational marijuana, any attempt to sell recreational marijuana would require new zoning and licensing review processes.

“Right now we have no intention other than medical cannabis,” said Union Group’s director of operations John Davis. He said that he operates a medical dispensary in another state that also allows for recreational use but that he does not plan to sell recreational marijuana there.

If Illinois were to legalize recreational marijuana, it would be difficult to predict how it would affect medical dispensaries, Davis said. Under a new state law in Washington, the regulation of medical marijuana “is being folded into recreational marijuana,” he said.

It is expected that many of the medical dispensaries will close in Washington and that more medical patients will be buying their marijuana at recreational facilities. Patients who register with the state will receive certain advantages when they visit a recreational facility, including the ability to buy more marijuana than non-registered customers.

Union Group chief executive officer Maria Kunz, who owns a home healthcare business, said that she made the decision to seek a dispensary license because a lot of her clients told her how their friends in other states were benefiting from medical marijuana. “They want to have the same choice of medicine for themselves,” she said.

The operator of a planned medical dispensary at 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave. in the Jefferson Park business district has said that he would not sell recreational marijuana if he were given that option.

Some residents at the meeting said that Norwood Park did not need a dispensary given that one is opening about two miles away. “Let Jefferson Park be the guinea pig,” one woman said.

A woman who supports Union Group’s project said that opponents were demonstrating a lack of humanity toward sick individuals whose pain and discomfort would be lessened by smoking marijuana.

A man said that he suffers from several medical ailments and that pot helps him get through routine tasks. “If I stop smoking it, I can’t drive more than 15 minutes because I’m in terrible pain,” he said.

Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) said that the polling which is office is conducting on Union group’s proposal shows that ward residents do not support the project. “About 79.9 percent of the people in the ward don’t want anything to do with this,” he said.

The zoning board, which acts independently of the City Council, will hold a Friday, Aug. 21, hearing on Union Group’s request. While the board often considers an alderman’s input, it is not unusual for the board to vote against the wishes of that alderman.

Napolitano said that he will present the final results of his polling at the board’s meeting and that ward residents can cast their vote on the issue by coming to his ward office at 7442 N. Harlem Ave. He said that his comments to the board will reflect the outcome of the polling and not his personal views on the matter.

Plans call for the dispensary to open inside a former medical supply store and for a 21-space parking lot to be constructed on an adjacent vacant parcel.

Union Group community outreach coordinator Teresa Slepawic said that any signage on the building would not mention marijuana. “You won’t ever know it’s a dispensary unless you know it’s there,” she said

Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) addresses the crowd at the July 23 community meeting at the Oriole Park fieldhouse.