NW Side dispensary to open by end of March


A medical marijuana dispensary is scheduled to open by the end of March in Jefferson Park, and an opening date has not been set for a recently approved dispensary in Norwood Park.

The city Department of Buildings has issued a construction permit to build a dispensary in a former mortgage office in a two-story building at 4758 N. Milwaukee Ave. An apartment is planned for the second floor.

"Curative Health is looking forward to serving the qualifying patients of Illinois in the first quarter of 2016," company chief executive officer Nicholas Vita said in a statement. Vita operates dispensaries in several states, and he has said that the Jefferson Park facility would be limited to the sale of medical marijuana even if the state legalized recreational marijuana.

The state Department of Health reported that as of Nov. 1 about 3,300 Illinois residents have qualified for the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program. Program participants are required to register with one dispensary and to limit their purchases to that facility.

State law allows 57 dispensaries in the state, and about 20 opened last year, state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation spokesman Terry Horstman said.

Curative Health will be one of two dispensaries which are allowed in Jefferson Township, which includes the Far Northwest Side of Chicago. The other dispensary will be operated by the Union Group of Illinois in a former medical supply store at 6428-30 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Union Group spokesman Jay Vincent said that the dispensary, which will include an adjoining 21-space parking lot, will open in 2016 but that additional details are not known because the Zoning Board of Appeals approved the proposal only three weeks ago. The approval by the board allows Union Group to apply for a construction permit for the project.

The zoning board approved Union Group’s request for a special use at its Dec. 18 meeting despite opposition from Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) and a recent change in the ownership of the company, which was reported to the zoning board on the day of the hearing. The board acts independently of the City Council, and it is not unusual for it to go against the wishes of an alderman.

Maria Kunz, who operates a home health care business in Skokie, resigned as the chief executive officer of Union Group in November, and she will be replaced by Alex Blyumkin, an entrepreneur who has invested in the energy and health care industries for the past 25 years, Vincent said.

Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio said that the board’s approval of Union Group’s request came as surprise given the confusion at the hearing about who was the company’s principal owner. Vittorio said that it took Union Group’s representatives about 10 minutes to announce Blyumkin’s takeover of the company after board chairman Jonathan Swain asked that the company’s chief executive address the board.

Vittorio said that Napolitano is "livid" that the board approved the proposal. He said that the alderman is seeking to determine if the change in chief executive officers was made in accordance with state law and that an appeal of the board’s decision is being considered.

The state regulation department requires that a change in a principal officer of a medical marijuana company be reported to the state, and Blyumkin will have to undergo a background check, Horstman said. The state approved a medical marijuana license for Union Group last winter, but it was contingent on the zoning board issuing a special use permit.

Vittorio said that nearly 75 percent of ward residents who were polled on Union Group’s proposal opposed the project. He said that concerns have been expressed that the location of the dispensary is not appropriate because children often are present at Caldwell Woods, which is across Milwaukee Avenue from the site.

Vincent said that the company has had a successful online petition drive in support of the project and that the group’s Facebook page features several pleas from township residents about the importance of having legal and safe access to medical marijuana.

Union Group plans to sponsor off-site educational seminars in an effort to promote wellness in the community and to educate individuals on the responsible use of marijuana for medical purposes. Four percent of the company’s profits will be donated to local nonprofit organizations even though there is no requirement to do so under state law, Vincent said.

Plans call for the dispensary to be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week and to have 10 full-time employees. Armed guards will be present during deliveries to the dispensary and during customer transactions, according to the company’s Web site.

In a related matter, the state health department is accepting petitions in support of adding debilitating medical conditions or diseases to the current list of ailments which patients must have in order to be eligible for the medical marijuana program. The state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board is expected to consider petitions twice a year.

Some of the 39 conditions and diseases which are covered under the law are cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, hydromyelia, Lupus and Parkinson’s.

In October the advisory board recommended that eight conditions, including post-traumatic stress syndrome, autism and irritable bowel syndrome, be added to the list, but the state is not yet accepting medical marijuana applications from patients with those conditions.