Alderman to testify against medical marijuana facility; concerns raised about proximity to forest preserve


Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) plans to testify against a proposed medical marijuana dispensary near Milwaukee and Devon avenues in part because of the high number of children who use Whealan Pool and picnic groves at nearby Caldwell Woods.

“The truth is no one in the ward is opposed to medical marijuana. They just have concerns with the location,” Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio said. “We’re looking at this from whether it’s a safe location and a good location.”

The Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled to hold a hearing on the proposal at its meeting on Friday, Dec. 18, in the Council Chamber at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St. The hearing will be held during the meeting’s afternoon session, which starts at 2 p.m.

The dispensary would be located inside a former supply store at 6428 N. Milwaukee Ave., across from Caldwell Woods. The zoning board must issue a special use permit, which also is required for massage parlors and some taverns and liquor stores, in order for the proposal’s applicant, the Union Group of Illinois, to receive a state license.

Dispensaries are prohibited within 1,000 feet of schools and daycare centers, but there is no restriction on how close a dispensary can be located to a forest preserve or park. However, last September the zoning board rejected a proposal to open a dispensary next to Warren Park, 6601 N. Western Ave., after residents expressed concerns that the facility would be too close to a place where large groups of children gather.

Vittorio said that similar concerns apply to Caldwell Woods given that many families who use the pool there also will visit a picnic grove that is located about 780 feet from proposed dispensary location.  He added that the Cook County Forest Preserve District holds educational programming at Caldwell Woods.

“There is precedence,” Vittorio said of the forest preserve issue. “It’s in keeping with the letter of the law.”

Vittorio said that 72 percent of the nearly 2,000 residents who responded to polling conducted by the ward office have been against the dispensary proposal. “It’s clear that a strong segment opposes,” he said.

Union Group representative Jay Vincent said that “hundreds of ward residents” have left the company phone messages in support of the proposal, including many passionate pleas from those seeking medical marijuana to help them cope with their illness. “This is really about medicine,” he said. “We’re committed to safety.”

At community meetings, Union Group officials have said that clients would be prohibited by law from opening the marijuana products which they purchase until they are home and that those entering the facility must present a state medical marijuana identification card that certifies their eligibility to purchase the drug. There are about 40 debilitating conditions which are covered under the state’s medical marijuana law.

Initially the availability of medical marijuana in Illinois was intended only for adults, but a year ago the Illinois Department of Health announced that it was working on guidelines to allow children suffering from seizures, including characteristics of epilepsy, to be eligible to receive the drug.

The first medical marijuana dispensary in Chicago opened Dec. 9 in the Uptown neighborhood. In addition, the zoning board has issued a special use for a planned dispensary on the first floor of a two-story building at 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Jefferson Park, and a construction permit is pending for the project.

Because marijuana is not legal under federal law, pharmacies cannot dispense the drug, but many states have enacted laws that allow specialized facilities to sell marijuana for medical purposes and in a few states for recreational use, too. In Illinois, medical marijuana can be sold in several forms, including leafs and drops.

Some residents who oppose Union Group’s proposal have expressed concern that a medical marijuana dispensary would be first in line to get a license to sell marijuana for recreational use if the state were to legalize that.