Residents wary of recreational pot sale


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.

"In 5 years time we’ll have no say in the matter when it’s recreational," a resident said at the meeting at the Oriole Park fieldhouse, 5430 N. Olcott Ave., that was attended by about 75 people "This is the first step. Don’t be fooled."

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

Project officials said that the special use permit which they are seeking from the city Zoning Board of Appeals will allow only the sale of medical marijuana and that if the state legalizes recreational marijuana, its sale would require new zoning and licensing reviews.

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

It is difficult to predict how legalizing recreational marijuana would affect medical dispensaries, Davis said. He said that under a new state law in Washington, the regulation of medical marijuana "is being folded into recreational marijuana."

It is expected that many medical dispensaries in Washington will close and that more patients will purchase 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 nonregistered customers.

Union Group chief executive officer Maria Kunz, who owns a home health care business, said that she decided to seek a dispensary license because many of her clients said that their friends in other states were benefiting from medical marijuana. "They want to have the same choice of medicine for themselves," Kunz said.

The operator of a medical dispensary that is planned for 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave. has said that he would not sell recreational marijuana if he had that option.

Some residents at the meeting said that the area does not need a dispensary because one is opening about 2 miles away. "Let Jefferson Park be the guinea pig," one woman said.

A resident who supports the Union Group project said that opponents were demonstrating a lack of humanity toward individuals whose discomfort would be reduced by smoking marijuana.

Another resident said that he suffers from several ailments and that marijuana 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 polling that is office is conducting on Union Group’s proposal shows that residents do not support the project. "About 79.9 percent of the people in the ward don’t want anything to do with this," Napolitano said.

The zoning board will hold hearing on Union Group’s request on Friday, Aug. 21. While the board often considers an alderman’s view on an issue, it is not unusual for it to vote against the wishes of the alderman.

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

More than 1,000 residents have responded to the survey which ward has conducted on the dispensary issue, Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio said.

Plans call for the dispensary to open in 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 signs on the building would not refer to marijuana. "You won’t ever know it’s a dispensary unless you know it’s there," she said.